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Canada Jan. 31, 2019

Rome summit may eye Canadian abuse document as model

By Michael Swan

Father Federico Lombardi and Father Thomas Rosica at a press briefing at the Vatican in 2015.  The two priests say Canada’s model for protecting minors will get attention at the papal summit on abuse later this month. (CNS)

The priest hand-picked by Pope Francis to chair the Feb. 21-24 summit on clerical sexual abuse at the Vatican has thrust the Canadian model for protecting minors into the spotlight as Church leaders from around the world prepare for the unprecedented meeting.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi has described new guidelines adopted by Canada’s bishops as a “significant example” of a document that examines the circumstances and dynamics of abuse while also proposing safeguards to prevent it in the future. He praised the Canadian bishops for providing “a wider orientation for bishops and indeed the entire ecclesial community.”

“One of the great merits of the Canadian document is that it has not limited itself to repeating the earlier ‘new lessons’ in general terms, but it has formulated … precise and detailed recommendations and action points,’ ” Father Lombardi wrote in the semi-official Vatican publication La Civilta Cattolica.

Given Lombardi’s endorsement and his role as chair of the upcoming Vatican meeting, the document is expected to be front-and-centre during the three-day summit of heads of bishops conferences from around the world. Titled “Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation,” the document gained almost immediate attention in Rome after it was adopted unanimously at the plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops last September.

Salt + Light Media CEO Father Tom Rosica, who had attended the Canadian bishops’ meeting, took copies of the new guidelines with him to Rome in early October and shared them with Vatican officials. A week later, CCCB president Bishop Lionel Gendron and key CCCB officials were in Rome to discuss the Canadian guidelines at length with heads of Vatican departments and with Pope Francis.

“This is at the highest level of the Church now,” said Rosica. “Father (Hans) Zollner, Father Lombardi and (Archbishop of Malta Charles) Scicluna saw the guidelines. They realized that Canada is way ahead of the game.”

When Father Lombardi was appointed to chair the February meeting of episcopal conference heads with Pope Francis, he had a copy of the Canadian guidelines as he worked on two articles for La Civilta Cattolica. His articles, intended to set the tone and agenda for the February meeting, appeared in the English edition of the paper in January.

Given Canada’s history since the Mount Cashel orphanage story in the late 1980s — the world’s first wide-ranging, highly public sex-abuse scandal — and as the first national conference of bishops to issue guidelines for investigating and reporting abuse cases in 1992, it’s not surprising Canada has assumed a leading role, said Father Rosica.

Canada’s model for protecting minors was adopted by the Canadian bishops last fall. It can be downloaded here.

“This is the third version of the Canadian guidelines,” he said. “So they’re constantly adapting it. It’s honest. It becomes a manual. I think it’s a wonderful thing it’s being held up as a model.”

London, Ont., Bishop Ron Fabbro was taken by surprise when he saw the emphasis placed by Lombardi on the new guidelines.

“He obviously sees that there’s a lot of value in that, which is now going to be brought to the rest of the bishops of the world,” said Bishop Fabbro. “It was gratifying, too.”

Bishop Fabbro started work on the guidelines in 2011. He wrote the introduction to the document and is most proud of how the Canadian guidelines focus on victims.

“We need the victims to come first,” he said. “We as the Church have a healing role to play. The document goes into the fact that we witness to what we are as Church. We listen to the victims and then we can do what the Church should be doing — being instruments of Jesus’ healing.”

The Vatican isn’t the only one taking notes from the Canadian guidelines. In Texas, one of the world’s leading consulting companies on sexual abuse has been combing through the guidelines. Praesidium Inc. develops, monitors and advises about 4,000 employers in 20 countries on sexual abuse policies, procedures, and enforcement. Its client base includes 130 male Catholic religious orders and nearly 50 Catholic dioceses, including four in Canada.

Click here to download “Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation.”

The Catholic Register