It's not over until it's over. That is true for many things: like a great hockey season or maybe the best concert or conference you ever attended. It is not true for the effort to protect the vulnerable. There is never a time when it is over. There are many Catholics, lay and clergy, who believe that the abuse of children and vulnerable adults is happening primarily somewhere else or by someone else. Many right here in our diocese feel that we have done all that we are required to do.
Certainly, this attitude would put us at odds with Pope Francis on the matter. On advice from the Council of Cardinals, he has established the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Cardinal Sean O'Malley is on that commission. Thoughts from his recent statement are paraphrased in this article: He notes that "The purpose of the commission is to advise the Pope, to recommend and promote best practices and procedures, to promote education and prevention throughout the world, and to carry out the mission entrusted to the Church to do all that is possible to protect all of God's children."
Jesus tells us to pluck out the eye or cut off the hand that causes us to sin, or throw someone who scandalizes a child into the sea.Surely, his intent is to get our attention about the extent of the damage which such sin causes. Abuse is a reprehensible act of betrayal. Decades ago, no one knew how much damage was being done to children. Now we know about the great harm to victims and the whole community.
This is not a Catholic problem or even a clerical problem. It is a human problem which will not be going away any time soon. People from within the Church and in the world at large are demanding that we take all encessary steps to safeguard the children entrusted to our care. Pope Francis has stated: "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."
The Holy Father speaks of the Commission's work to support Bishops' Conferences to develop the best possible policies for the protection of the vulnerable and to implement them consistently and courageously. If we do not take the initiative, the media will tell us what to do. The Church must lead the way by humbly making the commitment to accountability, transparency, and zero tolerance. The people of God and the wider society must see that we are serious if we are to prevent further loss of faith and of our ministries.
The 10 steps of volunteer screening are the Calgary diocesan response to the need for policies, procedures, and accountability. They are not a onetime fix but an ongoing program. We are in the process of making our parishes safer. We are making progress towards building stronger parish communities where people in ministry are gifted, supported, appreciated, and also screened. One newly revised part of this process is the online Police check, which will give our volunteers and employees more flexibility.
The Church today has the opportunity to lead the world in creating a safe environment for children and vulnerable adults. In the United States, many Christian churches and Jewish congregations have shown interest in adopting our best practices and working together to make society safer for all children, to care for the little ones.
The Holy Father sums up the required response in a beautiful prayer: "May the Lord Jesus instill, in each of us, 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...remain ever faithful in the work of protecting those closest to the heart of Jesus."