Last March I established the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which had first been announced in December 2013, for the purpose of offering proposals and initiatives meant to improve the norms and procedures for protecting children and vulnerable adults. I then appointed to the Commission a number of highly qualified persons well-known for their work in this field.
At my meeting in July with persons who had suffered sexual abuse by priests, I was deeply moved by their witness to the depth of their sufferings and the strength of their faith. This experience reaffirmed my conviction that everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused.
For this reason, last December I added new members to the Commission, in order to represent the Particular Churches throughout the world. In just a few days, all the members will meet in Rome for the first time.
In light of the above, I believe that the Commission can be a new, important and effective means for helping me to encourage and advance the commitment of the Church at every level – Episcopal Conferences, Dioceses, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and others – to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, and to respond to their needs with fairness and mercy.
Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home. Consequently, priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors.
Every effort must also be made to ensure that the provisions of the Circular Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dated 3 May 2011 are fully implemented. This document was issued to assist Episcopal Conferences in drawing up guidelines for handling cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics. It is likewise important that Episcopal Conferences establish a practical means for periodically reviewing their norms and verifying that they are being observed.
It is the responsibility of Diocesan Bishops and Major Superiors to ascertain that the safety of minors and vulnerable adults is assured in parishes and other Church institutions. As an expression of the Church’s duty to express the compassion of Jesus towards those who have suffered abuse and towards their families, the various Dioceses, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life are urged to identify programmes for pastoral care which include provisions for psychological assistance and spiritual care. Pastors and those in charge of religious communities should be available to meet with victims and their loved ones; such meetings are valuable opportunities for listening to those have greatly suffered and for asking their forgiveness.
For all of these reasons, I now ask for your close and complete cooperation with the Commission for the Protection of Minors. The work I have entrusted to them includes providing assistance to you and your Conferences through an exchange of best practices and through programmes of education, training, and developing adequate responses to sexual abuse.
May the Lord Jesus instil in each of us, as ministers of the Church, the same love and affection for the little ones which characterized his own presence among us, and which in turn enjoins on us a particular responsibility for the welfare of children and vulnerable adults. May Mary Most Holy, Mother of tenderness and mercy, help us to carry out, generously and thoroughly, our duty to humbly acknowledge and repair past injustices and to remain ever faithful in the work of protecting those closest to the heart of Jesus.
From the Vatican, 2 February 2015 Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Dear Brother Bishops,
I am pleased to meet with you, the representatives of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, and to encourage your work. SECAM was conceived and developed to be at the service of the local churches in Africa. It seeks to provide a common response to the new challenges facing the continent, allowing the Church to speak with one voice and to witness to her vocation as a sign and instrument of salvation, peace, dialogue and reconciliation. To fulfil this mission, it is important that SECAM remain faithful to its identity as a vibrant experience of communion and of service to the poorest of the poor.
To this end, pastors must remain free from worldly and political concerns, that they continually strengthen the bonds of fraternal communion with the Successor of Peter (through cooperation with the Apostolic Nunciatures), and through easy and direct communication with other Church bodies. At the same time, it is necessary to maintain the simple ecclesial experiences available to all, as well as streamlined pastoral structures. Experience teaches that large bureaucratic structures approach problems in the abstract and risk distancing the Church from people. For this reason, it is important to be concrete: that which is concrete is in touch with reality.
Above all, it is the youth who need your witness: young men and women look to us. In Africa, the future is in the hands of the young, who need to be protected from new and unscrupulous forms of “colonization” such as the pursuit of success, riches, and power at all costs, as well as fundamentalism and the distorted use of religion, in addition to new ideologies which destroy the identity of individuals and of families. The most effective way to overcome the temptation to give in to harmful lifestyles is by investing in education. Education will also help to overcome a widespread mentality of injustice and violence, as well as ethnic divisions. The greatest need is for a model of education which teaches the young to think critically and encourages growth in moral values (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 64). An important component in this educational process is the pastoral care of students: in Catholic or public schools there is a need to unite academic studies with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 132-134).
There are various reasons why we are seeing, also in Africa, a trend towards the breakdown of the family. In response, the Church is called to evaluate and encourage every initiative to strengthen the family, which is the real source of all forms of fraternity and the foundation and primary way of peace (cf. John Paul II, Message for the XXVII World Day of Peace, 1 January 1994). More recently, many priests, men and women religious as well as members of the lay faithful have admirably taken responsibility for the care of families, with a special concern for the elderly, the sick and the handicapped. Even in the most distant and remote regions, your local Churches have proclaimed the Gospel of Life and, following the example of the Good Samaritan, have come to the help of those most in need. A magnificent witness to charity has been given in response to the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus, which has struck many communities, parishes and hospitals. Many African missionaries have generously given their lives by remaining close to those suffering from this disease. This path must be followed with renewed apostolic zeal! As followers of Christ, we cannot fail to be concerned for the welfare of the weakest; we must also draw the attention of society and the civil authorities to their plight.
Dear brothers, I express my appreciation for the invaluable contribution made by so many priests, men and women religious and lay faithful to the proclamation of the Gospel and the social advancement of your people. SECAM is also a means of promoting respect for the law, so as to ensure that the ills of corruption and fatalism may be healed, and to encourage the efforts of Christians in society as a whole, always in view of the common good. The great work of evangelization consists in striving to make the Gospel permeate every aspect of our lives so that we, in turn, can bring it to others. For this reason, it must always be borne in mind that evangelization implies conversion, that is, interior renewal. The process of purification, which is inherent in evangelization, means accepting the call of Christ to “repent and believe the Good News” (cf. Mk 1:15). As a result of this conversion to salvation, not only individuals but the entire ecclesial community is transformed, and becomes an ever greater and more vital expression of faith and of charity.
May the light and the strength of the Holy Spirit sustain your pastoral efforts. May the Virgin Mary protect you and intercede for you and for the entire continent of Africa. To each of you, I give my Apostolic Blessing. Please pray for me.