“The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful.” With these words, Pope Francis has called for “a profound conversion of heart” and “concrete and effective actions” on the part of the Church to eradicate the scourge of Child Sexual Abuse.
At our recent Plenary Conference held in Mariannhill, the Bishops of the SACBC, were addressed by Fr Hans Zollner SJ, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Fr Zollner outlined the latest “concrete and effective actions” that are being taken in the Church to fight Sexual Abuse. As one of the Bishops commented “it was good and necessary to feel the sense of outrage and urgency” in Fr Zollner’s presentation. The President of the SACBC Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, thanked him for, amongst other things, precisely, his passion.
Catholics are perhaps not sufficiently aware that immediately after the Bishops’ Conference in January this year, Bishop Sithembele along with the Presidents of all the Bishops’ Conferences in the world, had been summoned to Rome by the Pope. Following this February gathering, an Apostolic Letter was issued by the Pope on the 1st May. “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” or “You are the Light of the World” is a significant document, whose “concrete and effective actions” have – from the 1st June of this year – had legal force throughout the Catholic world.
After speaking about Sexual Abuse in the Church in general, Fr Zollner highlighted the more significant facts of the Pope’s document – especially as regards the Bishops.
It is important that all Catholics be made aware of these.
The document names FOUR specific CRIMES:
- Sexual acts with anyone by violence, threat or through the abuse of authority
- Sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person
- Child pornography – which includes production, exhibition and recruitment
- Omissions or failures to act (especially as we shall see, on the part of Bishops!)
It is also important that we Bishops publicly acknowledge the developments concerning ourselves that have taken place in Church law.
- A procedure is now in place to report any of the above crimes alleged to have been committed by a Bishop
- On submission to the local Metropolitan (or Archbishop) such reports must be sent to Rome who must then respond within 30 days
- A final report must be completed within 90 days
As is always the case with legal processes, there is more detail, however, the above facts illustrate the determination of the Pope and the Church to hold us Bishops accountable. We cannot in any way, avoid our responsibilities. In simple terms, we cannot “sweep things under the carpet.” In the words of “You are the Light of the World” we have to take “concrete and effective action” against “crimes of sexual abuse”.
We Bishops of the SACBC wish to make it clear that we have received the law of “You are the Light of the World”. Besides this grave responsibility that lies on our shoulders – personally and collectively – we recognize the urgent need for the work that must be done in the Seminaries of the Conference and also and especially, in the ongoing formation of our Clergy and Religious.
We confess that where a terrible darkness has entered the Church, we are committed to do all in our power to restore Light to Southern Africa.
Contact Bishop Sithembele Sipuka for queries: +27 83 546 18 89