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A time of grace

- Sr Mary McCarthy pbvm


Gordons, Port Moresby: Catholic Bishops Conference President of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, Bp Rochus Tatamai MSC, shared highlights on the Summit on the Protection of Minors in the Church during a Press Conference and Discussion on Sunday, 3 March 2019.  


Present at the Press Conference and Discussion were Archbishop Douglas Young, Archbishop of Mt Hagen; Bishop Anton Bal, Bishop of Kundiawa; Bishop Gilles Côté, Bishop of Daru Kiunga; Priests, sisters, religious, seminarians and lay faithful.

In a letter, August 2018, the Pope called for a meeting to find a way forward at this time of crisis in the Catholic Church. ‘Learn first-hand from those in your own place who have been victims of sexual abuse,’ he instructed each bishop ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it …’ 1 Cor 12:26.   “Church leadership depends on authenticity. Leaders are now under scrutiny by victims of sexual abuse, the public, the wider society,” he said. 


Five testimonies from North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia opened the summit. These awful testimonies; these very heart-rending stories were difficult to come to terms with. Most painful was often the fact that the leadership in the Church did not regard the victims as believable; rather the leadership accused them of being ‘enemies of the Church’. Cardinal Taglia in his opening presentation recalled the story of Jesus inviting Thomas to touch his wounds and learn from the Risen Lord.  “Go forth on a mission of reconciliation”, concluded the Cardinal.


Bp Rochus, in referring to the summary of the work done in the discussion group, highlighted that there was clear recognition that they were not considering isolated cases but were dealing with sexual abuse as a global issue. It is essential then to call on the talents of laymen and women to contribute to a response. This concern was, later, emphasised during discussion time by Mr Paul Harricknen, who has himself served as Director of the Bishops’ Conference Commission on Right Relationships. Other lay people present expressed the desire to see ‘synodality’ – based on the principle that all can make a contribution.


Fidelity to our baptismal call and that families play a major role to protect their children.  There was also the need to reach out to survivors and not drive them away.  Women and their distinctive voices should be welcomed as they have the major role and are the ones who care for children.  


Bp Gill Cote was emphatic in the fact that all Bishops and priests are fully aware of their calling and are committed to follow the protocols that are in place. Recurring was the call for credible leadership that will elicit trust and increase faith. The need for qualified psychological counsellors to accompany seminarians as well as at institutions to accompany and deal with the family issues of every young person.  With misconduct in rural areas, kept under wraps and a difficult geographical terrain, the needed capacity to ensure that points of contact are available and a proper follow up is undertaken.  


While there may still be gaps, this time of grace is a step in the right direction. The afternoon was thought provoking and emotional for all present.

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