You would think a step like this would be seen positively by the media.
Not the Fairfax Press though, who cover the story today under the heading "Abuse Victims Reject Vatican Summit"! When you actually read the story however, it is less than obvious that this is a universal reaction!
The actual event is a four day symposium of experts from around the world, together with 100 bishops and 33 leaders of religious orders, aimed, amongst other things, at helping Bishops' Conferences develop more adequate guidelines for responding to claims, in line with the new requirements sent out in May 2011.
And it has included addresses by a victim, as well as hearing some very strong statements by the Pope, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, and others.
The Pope's message to the meeting reiterated his conviction that “healing for abuse victims must be of paramount concern in the Christian community”, together with “a profound renewal of the Church at every level”, according to the Vatican Radio Report.
Responding to abuse: active listening
Cardinal Levada (Prefect of the CDF) reiterated that:
"The first need of most victims, the Cardinal said, is to be heard and to know that the Church listens to their stories, understanding the gravity of their abuse and accompanying them on the long path towards healing. That’s why Pope Benedict has met personally with victims during his many pastoral visits to the UK, Malta, Germany, Australia or the United States That’s also why, in his letter to Catholics in Ireland, the Pope told victims “You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated.”
It is an important point. Our natural first reaction to claims and criticism is to deflect, be defensive, or attempt to respond to their substance. And that goes double when abuse claims get caught up in, use or confuse other agendas.
But if we want to genuinely communicate, the first step is actually to demonstrate that you understand what the other person is saying, and not just in words: we have genuinely listen to them and show that we are doing that by reflecting back to them what they are trying to tell us. We have to start by assuming that they are genuine rather than not, and try to understand where they are coming from. That is not easy to do!
Changing the culture
The Cardinal went on to say that:
"The Pope therefore “supports and encourages every effort to respond with evangelical charity to the challenge of providing children and vulnerable adults with an ecclesial environment conducive to their human and spiritual growth” and he urges the participants in the Symposium “to continue drawing on a wide range of expertise in order to promote throughout the Church a vigorous culture of effective safeguarding and victim support.”
Let us hope then, that this conference aids the many slow learners in the Church hierarchy to get a better understanding of how to deal with this ongoing challenge.
Over the last year in Australia we've seen a case that on the face of it demonstrates that even reasonably good processes can be made difficult to use if you put your mind to it, while less than desirable ones can be made to work effectively! We've seen a less than obvious commitment, at times, to justice being seen to be done through clearly independent and objective assessments.
So it is helpful then, to learn that Archbishop Wilson is attending the Conference as Australia's representative...