At a meeting this morning with the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop Gerhard Muller, Pope Francis stressed the need to continue the policies established by Benedict XVI to “act decisively” on the issue of clerical sex abuse of minors.
According to a CDF statement following the meeting,
[T]he Holy Father recommended that the Congregation, continuing along the lines set by Benedict XVI, act decisively with regard to cases of sexual abuse, first of all by promoting measures for the protection of minors, as well as in offering assistance to those who have suffered abuse, carrying out due proceedings against the guilty, and in the commitment of bishops’ conferences to formulate and implement the necessary directives in this area that is so important for the Church’s witness and credibility.
The “necessary directives” refers to the call made in 2011 by the CDF to all bishops’ conferences to draw up guidelines, similar to those implemented by the Church in most western countries, to tackle the problem, and to submit these to the CDF for approval.
The guidelines, the CDF made clear, should include reporting to civil authorities, implementation of canon law directives (which punish abuse of minors in a number of ways, including laicisation), as well as measures to ensure allegations, however old, are brought to light and acted on.
Three-quarters of the world’s 112 bishops’ conferences have drawn up and sent in such guidelines. Most of those which haven’t are in Africa, where in many countries sexual abuse of children is not acknowledged as a crime in civil law or in society.
The guidelines which the Vatican has demanded of the world’s bishops’ conferences also include careful screening of candidates to the priesthood. On this subject, Pope Francis, when Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, told a journalist in relation to clerical celibacy:
Seventy per cent of paedophilia cases happen in the family or in the vicinity of the home. There are many stories of children abused by their parents, grandparents, uncles, and often by stepfathers. These are perversions of a psychological nature which precede any choice to be a celibate priest. If there is a paedophile priest, it is because he has had that perversion from the time before he was ordained. And celibacy does not cure that perversion. You have it or you don’t. That’s why you have to have great care in the selection of candidates to the priesthood. In the metropolitan seminary of Buenos Aires we accept about 40 per cent of those who apply. We make a very careful examination of their maturity …. We carry out thorough tests on all of them, which determines their selection. A person with a psychosis of any sort can end up behaving in ways that are megalomaniac, dishonest or criminal … But the selection has to be rigorous not just in the human aspects, but also in the spiritual. We demand a serious prayer life — I always ask the seminarians how they pray — as well as a deep capacity for self-giving to others and to God.
[From El Jesuita, a book-long interview with Cardinal Bergoglio by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti published in 2010. Our trans.]