Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Day: March 24, 2017

Addressing child protection

Hello and welcome!

As I left off my post last Friday, I had just concluded celebrating the St. Patrick’s Day Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Continuing the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, that evening I attended the Charitable Irish Society’s 280th Anniversary Dinner.Blog-IMG_0722

Charitable Irish Society dates back to Colonial times, and was originally founded by Ulstermen in the United States to help provide for their fellow countrymen in need, but when the largely Irish Catholic immigrants began to arrive in the United States in the 1800s, they assisted them as well, making no distinction based on religion. Over the years, the society has continued to serve as a bridge between the Catholic and Protestant Irish communities.

Christopher Duggan, president of the society, led the program which included presentations by Katherine Zappone, T.D., the Irish Minister for Children and Youth, and Professor Christine Quinlan, a renowned scholar of Irish history and the Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University.

Professor Quinlan provided a fascinating and very informative presentation on Fanny Parnell, the sister of Irish nationalist Charles Parnell, sharing Ms. Parnell’s writings advocating for social justice in Ireland during the 1870’s.

Notably, most of her work was published in The Pilot, one of the most widely distributed newspapers in Boston and beyond at that time. She was very much admired by The Pilot’s editor, the famed poet John Boyle O’Reilly, who was a Fenian and Fanny Parnell was a strong supporter of the Fenian cause.

We had a lovely music performance by singers from Boston College and they ended the evening with the national anthems of Ireland and the United States.Blog-IMG_6828

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Saturday, I began the day by attending the annual breakfast for the Mary Ann Brett Food Pantry at St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta Parish in Dorchester. The gathering is always held this time of year with a St. Patrick’s Day theme.DSC_9513DSC_9559

The pantry is dedicated to the memory of Jim Brett’s mother. Jim and his wife Patti dedicate significant time and effort to this fundraiser and to the ongoing work of the pantry, which provides so many individuals and families with much-needed assistance.DSC_9505

With Jim Brett and Father John Currie

Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh are among the long-standing supporters of this event, which draws greater attendance each year, all to the good of the work of the pantry.DSC_9543

Also with us for the event was Ambassador Ray Flynn, who offered some remarks.IMG_6832

Father John Currie, Pastor of St. Mother Theresa Parish, introduced the high school students who volunteer for community service at the Pantry. We are blessed that the young members of the Church are giving time and effort to this pastoral outreach.

Here I am with Jim Brett and WBZ radio host Dan Rea holding up a sweatshirt signed by Bill Belichick that was auctioned off to support the pantry.DSC_9605

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Later that day, I celebrated our Mass for Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors and their Families at the Pastoral Center.Blog-IMG_6836

I’m very grateful to our Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach for organizing this Mass, which is always an important moment to be able to pray with survivors and their families and to try to promote healing and reconciliation, as well as express the Church’s deep regret and apologies for the suffering of so many and to renew our commitment to vigilance and the protection of children and young people.

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That evening, I attended a reception held by the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums at the headquarters of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in Faneuil Hall. It was held in celebration of their exhibit on the life and work of the Swiss Guards, who are responsible for the protection of the Holy Father and the Vatican.IMG_6843IMG_6842

Our good friend Mario Enzler, a former Swiss Guard who is now a faculty member at the Catholic University Busch School of Business and Economics, shared recollections of his service and reflections on the mission of the Swiss Guards and his experiences with St. Pope John Paul II.IMG_6840

We are so grateful to the Patrons of the Arts for bringing this exhibit to Boston and for all they do supporting the work of the Vatican Museums. As I told the people, one of the missions of the Church is to preserve the artistic patrimony of the world and, as Pope John Paul II said in his letter to artists, “beauty will save the world.” The Church presents beauty so that people can glimpse God’s beauty and be led to the source of all goodness and beauty, which is God himself.

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On Sunday, Father Brian Manning welcomed me to St. Mary Parish in Franklin for the Mass celebrating the centennial of the parish Knights of Columbus Council, dedicated to the Sacred Heart.ProcessionCardinal2KofCLevel4

There was a standing-room crowd for the Mass, reflecting the Knights’ extensive work in the parish and the local community. We are so grateful for all that our Knights of Columbus Councils do to support and advance the work of the Church, particularly in our efforts for respect and protection of life and encouraging vocations to the priesthood and religious life.Cardinal4

Knights from many councils joined in the honor guard at the Mass and the parish choirs came together to provide a magnificent music program.

Afterwards, the Knights hosted a lovely brunch reception at the area high school.KofC_CardinalGroup

They were so gracious and hospitable to us at the brunch, and they served me a very delicious looking omelet. Unfortunately, just as I put my fork into it to take a taste, all the smoke alarms went off and we had to be evacuated from the building. So, I never did get my omelet!

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Monday, I met with Dan Cellucci, the new head of the Catholic Leadership Institute. He stopped in to share some of their latest studies with me.Blog-IMG_6844

We are so grateful for the important work that they do in promoting evangelization and the training of leadership and we wish Dan well in his new role at CLI.

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On Tuesday morning I visited St. John’s School Wellesley for the celebration of their 50th anniversary.


The school was founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and a number of the sisters were with us for the celebration, including Sister Julie McDonough, who served as principal for nearly 25 years.St.-John--451

We are also joined by our Superintendent of Schools, Kathy Mears; Head of School, Michael Dibbert; and of course, the pastor, Father Jim Laughlin.St.-John--493St.-John--341St.-John--286St.-John--339St.-John--257St.-John--217

Following the Mass, there was a lovely reception with the students and we blessed a new statue of Christ and the Children.St.-John--146

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Then, in the afternoon I went to Randolph for the wake of fallen Watertown Firefighter Joseph Toscano. I was able to offer my condolences to his wife and his five children, as well as to members of his extended family.Blog-IMG_6853

I led a wake service for them and afterwards I commented how grateful everyone in the community is for the inspiring service that firefighters give, putting their own lives at risk to protect others. We once again want to express our solidarity with Firefighter Toscano’s family and all his fellow firefighters.

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Wednesday, I departed for Rome where, on Thursday, we held a conference on child protection and Catholic schools, which the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children sponsored in conjunction with the Congregation for Education, where our own Bishop Edyvean had worked for so many years. We are so grateful that so many joined us for the gathering including Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin; Cardinal João Braz, the prefect of the Congregation for Religious; the head of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Peter Turkson; and Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the prefect of the Congregation for Laity, Family and Life._CG15638_CG15746IMG_1660_CG25102_CG16136_CG16036

There are over 200,000 Catholic schools worldwide, educating over 60 million students. This is clearly a very important arena for child protection, so we wanted to begin this conversation with countries that have large Catholic school systems.

During our gathering we heard presentations from school systems in Columbia, Mexico Argentina and Australia._CG15737

I also gave an address, which I’d like to share with you:

Your Eminences, Excellencies and Graces, Ambassadors, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, welcome. Thank you for gathering today with us for this Educational Seminar, an opportunity for us to listen to each other and to learn from our shared experiences in safeguarding minors and vulnerable adults in our homes, our schools, and our Churches worldwide.

On behalf of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, I would like especially to thank our hosts, the Pontifical Gregorian University, through its Rector, Father Nuno da Silva Gonçalves SJ, and Vice Rector, Father Hans Zollner, who is also Director of the Centre for Child Protection and, indeed, a founding member of our Commission.

Three years ago our Holy Father, Pope Francis established our Commission “to promote the protection of the dignity of minors and vulnerable adults […] through their cooperation with individuals and groups pursuing these same objectives” (Chirograph, 22 March 2014). Today, as we gather in this great hall, together we represent a truly wide diversity of groups and individuals working around the world on a common goal, to make our Church a safe home for all.

Some here today are among our Holy Father’s close collaborators, including the Cardinal Secretary of State and several Cardinal Prefects. Our Commission wishes to thank Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. We are grateful for your continued collaboration in this joint effort to promote a culture of safeguarding, especially among the leaders of our Church, both now in the present and in the future.

We would like to welcome each of you personally who have come today and in a special way to mention the representatives of other dicasteries, the rectors of Pontifical Universities and Colleges, and authorities from the Italian State Police and the Vatican Gendarme.

Our Commission turns to each of us present here today, hoping that we can learn from the experience that each of us brings. The presentations include your fellow educators, academics and safeguarding experts from various parts of the world. In a special way, we will focus attention on South America, a great continent of hope. Joining the Catholic educators from Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina, we will also hear from the Chief Executive Officer of the Truth, Justice and Healing Commission in Australia and from the Chief Psychologist of the Italian State Police.

Our ultimate goal in this program is to continue learning about ways to develop and to implement comprehensive and rigorous programs to safeguard the most vulnerable from sexual abuse. I have often expressed my strong, personal conviction about these topics, including last September at the course for new bishops, when I urged them, “Let there be no doubts, no other topic is more important for the life of the Church. If the Church is not committed to child protection, our efforts at evangelization will be to no effect; we will lose the trust of our people and gain the opprobrium of the world.”

There is simply no justification in our day for failures to enact concrete safeguarding standards for our children, young men and women, and vulnerable adults. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to reform and renew all the institutions of our Church. But we are also called by God to be witnesses and strong advocates in our societies and in all public institutions.

And we certainly must address the evil of sexual abuse by priests. At the Consistory February 2015, I said to my brother Cardinals and to Pope Francis the abuse of children and the vulnerable “is not a Catholic problem or even a clerical problem. It is a human problem. However, when abuse is perpetrated by a priest, the damage is even more profound. In today’s world of instantaneous communications, our Catholic people throughout the world are becoming more aware of the problem of sexual abuse in the Church and are demanding that we, who are their pastors, take all necessary steps to safeguard the children entrusted to our care.”

It is this commitment that has brought the members of our Commission together from all five continents to offer our expertise and advice to our Holy Father. Pope Francis has entrusted us with the mission of “promoting local responsibility in local Churches” (Statutes, art. 1) and of providing assistance “through an exchange of best practices and through programmes of education, training, and developing adequate responses to sexual abuse” (Letter to presidents of all episcopal conferences, 2 February 2015).

This work includes all our educational institutions in local Churches. Today’s program will begin in a few moments with an address from Father Friedrich Bechina, the Undersecretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, a key partner in this work. Then the Chair of our Commission’s Working Group on Education in Families, Kathleen McCormack, will speak to us about keeping children safe in our schools.

May I also say just a few words about Pope Francis. When many people talk about our Holy Father they call him “The Reformer Pope.” But what I have noticed is that they are usually talking simply about the reform of structures. Our Holy Father reminds us that we must first talk about the reform of hearts – about true conversion. This is our task today. It is not something that will be achieved overnight. But we truly can educate people in a way that we will change their hearts and their minds. The work of providing safe environments in all Catholic institutions is a crucial part of this work. Let there be no doubt about it: Pope Francis is thoroughly committed to rooting out the scourge of sex abuse in the Church.

Kindly allow me to leave you with one final thought. All the best programs and best practices will be of no avail if we fail to put the victims and survivors of sexual abuse first. Our Commission has adopted “the priority principle,” victims first, something that will be a central topic during our Plenary Assembly this week: How can victim/survivors continue to have a powerful voice in our work and help to guide us?

May I thank you for joining our Commission and our partners here today. The engine that drives study days such as this is the knowledge that we cannot ever become complacent in this work and that we must continue to learn from our experiences, including our mistakes. Effectively making our Church safe for all people demands our collaboration at all levels. Over these past three years in our encounters in local Churches around the world, one theme has consistently emerged: the need for a better sharing of resources and knowledge. This seminar offers an important opportunity for us to continue on this path together. Thank you.

I was very gratified by the wonderful response and am grateful to the participants in the conference gave such powerful witnesses.

Until next week,

Cardinal Seán

March 2017