Saturday, February 23, 2019

Religious Sister Speaks at Vatican Meeting against Abuse " break any culture of silence and secrecy among us.." FULL TEXT + Video

23 February 2019
Openness to the World as a Consequence of the Ecclesial Mission
Address to Presidents of Bishops Conferences
23 February 2019
Sr. Veronica Openibo SHCJ
Society leader: Society of the Holy Child Jesus
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and anointed me to preach good news to
the poor. The Spirit has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and
recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the Lord’s year
of favour”. (Luke 4:18-19)
As a result of the self-understanding of her mission in the world today, the
Church needs to update and create new systems and practices that will promote
action without fear of making mistakes. Clerical sex abuse is a crisis that has
reduced the credibility of the Church when transparency should be the hallmark of
mission as followers of Jesus Christ. The fact that many accuse the Catholic
Church today of negligence is disturbing. The Church must do everything possible
to protect its young and vulnerable members. The focus should not to be on fear or
disgrace but rather on the Church’s mission to serve with integrity and justice.

The mission of the Church flows directly from our deepest understanding of
the Incarnation. Catholic Christianity is grounded in belief in a God who chose to
be one with the human world.
The self-understanding of the mission of the Church must be a manifestation
of the Christ we know as both human and divine. The whole of Christ’s mission
was to reveal who God is and who we can become. This implies a total acceptance
of all that is human and all that the power of God’s grace does to transform us into
being witnesses of the divine. Our world-view, if Christian, must be based on
respect and dignity for each human being.
At the present time, we are in a state of crisis and shame. We have seriously
clouded the grace of the Christ-mission. Is it possible for us to move from fear of
scandal to truth? How do we remove the masks that hide our sinful neglect? What
policies, programs and procedures will bring us to a new, revitalized starting point
characterized by a transparency that lights up the world with God’s hope for us in
building the Reign of God?
Throughout the time of writing this presentation, my eyes were cloudy and I
wondered what this could mean. Then I remembered the first time I watched the
movie Spotlight, the 2015 American biographical drama about the investigation by
the Boston Globe into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the
Boston area by numerous priests and the alleged cover-up by ecclesial authorities.
At the end of the film was a long list of cases and the dioceses where they
occurred and reading about the number of children affected (and later seeing the
vast amount of money spent on settlements), tears of sorrow flowed. How could
the clerical Church have kept silent, covering these atrocities? The silence, the
carrying of the secrets in the hearts of the perpetrators, the length of the abuses and
the constant transfers of perpetrators are unimaginable. Presumably there were
significant signs in the confessional and in spiritual direction. With a heavy and
sad heart, I think of all the atrocities we have committed as members of the
Church. The Constitutions of my own congregation reminds me: “In Christ we
unite ourselves to the whole of humanity, especially to the poor and suffering. We
accept our share of responsibility for the sin of the world and so live that his love
may prevail”. (SHCJ Constitutions n.6). We must acknowledge that our
mediocrity, hypocrisy and complacency have brought us to this disgraceful and
scandalous place we find ourselves as a Church. We pause to pray Lord have
mercy on us!
In Gaudete et Exsultate (164) we read that “Those who think they commit no
grievous sins against God’s law can fall into a state of dull lethargy. Since they
see nothing serious to reproach themselves with, they fail to realize that their
spiritual life has gradually turned lukewarm. They end up weakened and
corrupted”. So many aspects of this statement from Pope Francis stand out for
me on the issue of child abuse, as also these sentences from the PCB Preparation
Document: “A Church that is closed/shut off is no longer Church. Her mission
would be thwarted. It's not about giving up principles and secularizing the
Church, it's about living visibly and perceptibly what you claim to be, or what
and how you really are”.
We proclaim the Ten Commandments and “parade ourselves” as being the
custodians of moral standards/values and good behaviour in society. Hypocrites
at times? Yes! Why did we keep silent for so long? How can we turn this around
for a time to evangelise, catechise and educate all the members of the Church,
including clergy and religious? Is it true that most bishops did nothing about the
sexual abuse of children? Some did and some did not out of fear or cover-up.
We might say the Church is now taking steps to arrest the situation but also
to be more transparent about all the steps it had been taking privately over two
decades, such as meeting with victims of sexual abuse, reporting cases to the
appropriate civil authorities and setting up commissions. The question today is
more about how to address the issue of the sexual abuse of minors more directly,
transparently and courageously as a Church. The hierarchical structure and
systems in the Church should be a blessing for us to reach the whole world with
very clear mechanisms to address this and many other issues. Why has this not
happened enough? Why have other issues around sexuality not been addressed
sufficiently, e.g. misuse of power, money, clericalism, gender discrimination, the
role of women and the laity in general? Is it that the hierarchical structures and
long protocols that negatively affected swift actions focused more on media
I would like to offer some reflections based on my experience as an African
woman religious. I have lived in Rome for fifteen years and studied in America for
three. So, I am familiar with these issues in the Global North. Probably like many of
you, I have heard some Africans and Asians say, that “this is not our issue in
countries in Africa and Asia, it is the problem in Europe, the Americas, Canada and
Australia”. However, I worked throughout Nigeria in the area of sexuality education
for nine years and heard the stories and counselled many people. I realized how
serious the issues were and still are and sharing a few of my personal experiences
emphasise this fact. In the early 90s a priest told me there were sexual abuses in the
convents and formation houses and that, as president of the Nigeria Conference of
Women Religious, I should, please, do something to address the issue. A second
priest in the early 2000s said that a particular ethnic group practiced a lot of incest
but I added that from my personal experience incest is a world issue. A dying old
man revealed to me he was acting strangely because of the sexual abuse he
experienced as a teenager from the priests in his school. A thirteen-year-old girl met
her priest attacker 25 years later and he did not recognize her…
 Let us not hide such events anymore because of the fear of making mistakes.
Too often we want to keep silent until the storm has passed! This storm will
not pass by. Our credibility is at stake. Jesus told us, “Whoever causes one of
these little ones who believe [in me] to sin, it would be better for him if a
great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
(Mark 9:42). We must face this issue and seek healing for the victims of
abuse. The normal process for clergy - in the past and still in the present in
some areas - was/is to give support to ‘one of us’, to avoid exposing a
scandal and bringing discredit to the Church. All offenders, regardless of
their clerical status, found guilty should be given the same penalty for the
abuse of minors.
 Let us have courageous conversations rather than saying nothing to avoid
making a mistake. We can make a mistake but we are not created to be a
mistake and posterity will judge us for not taking action. The first step
towards true transparency is to admit wrongdoing and then to publish what
has been done since the time of Pope John Paul II to heal the situation. It
may not be sufficient in the eyes of many but it will show that the Church
had not been totally silent.
 We must build more effective and efficient processes, based on research in
human development as well as civil and canon law, for the Safeguarding of
Minors. Then clear and comprehensive safeguarding policies and guidelines
in every diocese should be placed visibly in various parish offices and
published on the internet. There must be better handling of the cases through
face-to-face, transparent and courageous conversations with both victims
and offenders, as well as investigating groups. In some parts of the world,
including countries in Africa and Asia, not saying anything is a terrible
mistake as we have seen in many countries. The fact that there are huge
issues of poverty, illness, war and violence in some countries in the Global
South does not mean that the area of sexual abuse should be downplayed or
ignored. The Church has to be pro-active in facing it.
 The excuse that respect be given to some priests by virtue of their advanced
years and hierarchical position is unacceptable. This argument states that
many of the criminal offenders are old, some no longer alive, and that we
should not hurt them or their reputations by taking away their priesthood in
old age. We can feel sad for those who, when they were younger committed
offences that are now being brought out to the open. But my heart bleeds for
many of the victims who have lived with the misplaced shame and guilt of
repeated violations for years. In some of these cases the offenders did not
even see these victims as persons but as objects.
 It is true, as a Church, that we believe in repentance of the sinner, in
conversion of hearts and the grace of transformation, “Go and from now on
do not sin any more.” says Jesus (John 8:1-11). This can create a strong
dilemma for some, especially when we know that abusers have often been
victims themselves. Do we need to probe deeply what we mean by justice
with compassion? How can we help create the environment for prayer and
discernment for the grace of God to enlighten us in the way of justice so that
transformation and healing may take place for both victims and offenders?
We would need to find out where throughout the world (not only in
wealthier countries), are the best practices for doing this being developed
and can we implement them? Many of these are to be found within the
 In publishing the names of offenders, can we publish a complete set of
information regarding these situations?
Strategic Way Forward
 It is becoming evident that for many victims being listened to and helped
psychologically and spiritually it was the beginning of a healing process.
Can we train enough sensitive and compassionate people to offer this service
in all countries including those places struggling to put food on the table?
Are there ways of helping parishes heal victims using their traditional
wisdom? Do we make use of preaching and other means to address sexual
issues in society? How might dioceses share in a strategic way in providing
culturally-sensitive education programs and training kits? Such materials,
respecting the dignity of the human persons and emphasizing unacceptable
behaviours, could be used in parishes and schools, hospitals and other places
of pastoral ministry.
 How can we continue to address in very concrete ways the issues of
prostitution and trafficking on an immense scale as well as personal infidelity
and promiscuity around the world? There must be Catholics, alongside others
with similar principles, in positions of influence in, for example, the film
industry, TV and advertising. They could be encouraged to come together and
reflect on their role in promoting a better view of the human person. Let there
be a focus on society’s disservice to men in every patriarchal culture in the
area of sexuality. Let us investigate how better to use social media to educate
people on the whole area of sexuality and human relationships.
 Essential, surely, is a clear and balanced education and training about
sexuality and boundaries in the seminaries and formation houses; in the
ongoing formation of priests, religious men and women and bishops. It
worries me when I see in Rome, and elsewhere, the youngest seminarians
being treated as though they are more special than everyone else, thus
encouraging them to assume, from the beginning of their training, exalted
ideas about their status. The study of human development must give rise to a
serious question about the existence of minor seminaries. The formation of
young women religious, too, can often lead to a false sense of superiority
over their lay sisters and brothers, that their calling is a ‘higher’ one. What
damage has that thinking done to the mission of the Church? Have we
forgotten the reminder by Vatican II in Gaudium et Spes of the universal
call to holiness? In addition, we need to ask responsible and sensitive lay
people and women religious to give true and honest evaluation of candidates
for episcopal appointments.
 Could each diocese be challenged to gather men and women of integrity:
laity, including religious, and clergy, to form a joint commission sharing
expertise about the documentary procedures and protocols, the legal and
financial implications of allegations and the necessary channels of
responsibility and accountability? A well-qualified person - lay, religious or
priests - is likely to be the best chairperson of such a group. In addition, they
need to work out how best to face the serious issues of sexual abuse already
exploding in some Asian and African countries in the same way that it has
elsewhere. Many people who were sexually abused by priests or others in
pastoral positions will suffer as traumatic memories are evoked. Some
people will be reminded that they could well be revealed as former or
current abusers or accused of covering up such facts. Many in various forms
of ministry will come across people, family members, adults and/or children,
who have been or are being abused and need to know how to respond
appropriately. Some allegations will be false which causes suffering of
another kind. The impact of damaged faith in the Church cannot be underemphasized as a large number of Catholics are and will be angry and
confused. People in positions of some authority also need to know what to
say or do in terms of response when issues get to the media.

We know that the greatest issue is the proclamation of the gospel in a way that
will touch the hearts of the young and old. We are called to proclaim the good news
but we must BE good news to the people we serve today. No wonder Pope Francis
has declared the month of October 2019 The Extra Ordinary Missionary Month.
The Church in its mission from Jesus Christ must be open to greater
transparency because we are sent to the world locally and globally. Our whole
being is not just about keeping the faith but living visibly and distinctively what we
claim to be. We are called like Jesus in his mission statement:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and anointed me to preach good news to
the poor. The Spirit has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and
recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the Lord’s year
of favour”. (Luke 4:18-19)
As an indicator or postscript, I emphasise the following:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon each of us here,
has anointed all of us,
to preach good news to the poor the vulnerable, protecting especially
defenceless children, seeking justice for the victims of abuse and taking steps to
prevent this abuse from recurring,
to proclaim deliverance to the captives the perpetrators are in need of
deliverance, conversion and transformation,
and recovery of sight to the blind those who are not seeing the issues, or
focusing on protecting ‘our own’, or keeping silent or covering up need recovery
of sight, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour by taking
the necessary steps and maintaining zero tolerance with regard to sexual abuse we
will release the oppressed. This is our year of favour let us courageously take up
the responsibility to be truly transparent and accountable.
Returning to the title of this conference, another self-understanding passages
is from (Matthew 5:14-16):
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor
do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father”.
I read with great interest many articles about the Pope’s reactions in the case
of the Chilean bishops – from a denial of accusations, to anger because of
deception and cover up, to the acceptance of resignations of three of the bishops. I
admire you, Brother Francis, for taking time as a true Jesuit, to discern and be
humble enough to change your mind, to apologize and take action – an example for
all of us.
Thank you, Pope Francis, for providing this opportunity for us to check and
see where we have acted strangely, ignorantly, secretly and complacently. I believe
we will change, with great determination, our total approach to reporting abuse, to
supporting the victims, to getting the right people to mentor and give support to
victims and, above all, to doing what we can to protect minors and vulnerable
adults from any form of abuse. Thank you, too, for providing women religious,
through the executive of the Union of Superiors General (UISG), an opportunity to
participate in this conference. Women have acquired a lot of useful experience to
offer in this field and have already done much to support victims and also to work
creatively on their own use of power and authority.
I hope and pray that at the end of this conference we will choose deliberately
to break any culture of silence and secrecy among us, to allow more light into our
Church. Let us acknowledge our vulnerability; be pro-active not reactive in
combating the challenges facing the world of the young and the vulnerable, and
look fearlessly into other issues of abuse in the Church and society.
May I remind all of us of Pope Francis’ own words:
“A Christian who does not move forward has an identity that is ‘not well’... The
Gospel is clear: the Lord sent them out saying: ‘go, go forward’! The Christian
walks, moves past difficulties and announces that the Kingdom of God is near”.
Thank you.
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