[Silver Spring, MD] The Leadership Conference of Women Religious gratefully acknowledges the Vatican meeting on the protection of minors. We believe the summit was an important step towards dismantling the church systems that have allowed the prevalence and cover-up of abuse to have gone unacknowledged and unaddressed for far too long. Publicly naming the existence of abuse as a serious crime is key to bringing this reality out of secrecy and into a place where it can be addressed with honesty and transparency.
We applaud the Vatican’s emphasis to do all it can to protect children and agree that this was the appropriate starting point for the church’s work. The sexual abuse of innocent children is unconscionable in any part of the world, regardless of cultural norms. We know that other abuse has occurred in the church, including of our own sisters and we will continue to work to be sure that this abuse is halted. We also believe, however, that if the institutional church can correct the abuses of power that allowed the violation of children to occur, its correction of other abuses of power will inherently align. We pledge to continue our advocacy in this regard.
Our hope is that the plans promised in the summit for implementing safeguards against further abuse on the local level are executed swiftly and thoroughly, and that the accountability requirements are strong and closely monitored. The inclusion of the laity in the creation of new safeguarding structures is critical, and we are especially heartened to hear that the church recognizes that women, particularly mothers, can play a critical role in developing and monitoring programs designed to protect children.
We are encouraged to see that the leaders of the church have pledged to treat the survivors of past abuse with dignity and respect -- initiating communication, welcoming their stories, and working with them toward the healing they seek. We, women religious leaders, also must acknowledge that we have been slow in understanding the devastating impact of abuse and how widespread it has been in the church and in society. We too are working to improve how we welcome survivors and support their healing, knowing that abuse has been committed by sisters as well.
This time of awakening to the extent of the abuse of power on many levels in the institutions that have served the world and our nation invites us all to do the hard work that will lead to deep and lasting transformation – not only of the institutions themselves, but in our own personal lives. As we saw demonstrated during the Vatican summit through the words and actions of Pope Francis and many of those who addressed the summit, such transformation requires profound humility. Our prayer is that we may all undertake this journey of change from this same stance. Doing so can only make us better persons, more capable of creating a world where all people are protected and treated with the love and respect they deserve.
Contact: Sister Annmarie Sanders, IHM | LCWR Director of Communications