There have been four Press Conferences, coinciding with the four days of the Meeting. Each one has provided a synthesis of the day’s discussions and reflections, and allowed journalists an opportunity to engage with participants and speakers in what was often a lively Q&A session.
One implicit (and explicit) question underscored the concluding press briefing on Sunday: “What now”? Expectations were high, especially given Pope Francis’ mandate to participants, at the start of the Meeting, to come up with “concrete” initiatives to help the Church in protecting minors.
It fell to Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ, as Moderator of the Meeting on the “Protection of Minors in the Church”, to announce three such initiatives:
1. The imminent publication of a Motu proprio by the Pope, providing rules and regulations to safeguard minors and vulnerable adults within Vatican City State.
2. The distribution of a “vademecum” (or rulebook) to Bishops around the world, explaining their juridical and pastoral duties and responsibilities with regard to protecting children.
3. The creation of an operative “task force”, comprising competent experts, to assist those Bishops’ Conferences that may lack the necessary resources or expertise to confront the issue of safeguarding minors, and deal with abuse.
There was a fourth response to the “what now” question: the fact that the Organizing Committee will be meeting with heads of Vatican Curia departments to discuss follow-up and reflect on a related question: “What next?”
The “Protection of Minors” Meeting in the Vatican has received extensive coverage throughout the media over the last few days. The Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, Paolo Ruffini, acknowledged as much when he thanked journalists for their work. He stressed the role of journalists as that of “searching for and reporting the truth”. He spoke of the importance of “listening without prejudice”, and confirmed how “there can be no communication if everyone is talking and no one is listening”. Ruffini, and others on the panel at the Press Conference, praised Mexican journalist, Valentina Alazraki, for her “courageous” contribution to the Meeting on Saturday, when she addressed the Bishops on the theme of transparency: “Communication to all people”.
Addressing the Press Conference, Valentina Alazraki encouraged “working together with the Church” on this issue, but reminded the Bishops never to say “no comment”, and to be sure to provide media with “timely and fair information”.
Asked for his take-away on the “Protection of Minors” Meeting, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, called it “timely, useful, and necessary”. He and his brother Bishops, he said, came away with a universal understanding and consciousness that confronting the problem of abuse is “a priority for the Church”. He also praised the contribution of women at the encounter, highlighting the value of their “feminine insights and perspectives”.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta provided his own “flashbacks of these four days”. He said he was struck by the Holy Father’s concluding speech and his clarity, defining both abuse and cover-ups as “egregious crimes”. “There is no going back”, said the Archbishop. He also said that the presence of victims-survivors was a vital part of the experience. “We cannot not listen to victim-survivors”, he added. Archbishop Scicluna stressed how “at the end of the day, it is a change of heart that is important”. We need the right motivation and, for that, we need to listen to different voices – including those of women, who (in the case of this Meeting) provided a “breath of fresh air”.
Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, is a member of the Organizing Committee and Head of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He spoke of a “qualitative and quantitative leap along a decade-long journey that will continue”. Attitudes have changed, he said, and people have been transformed: they are determined to “go back home and do something about it”.
Right now, concluded Fr. Zollner, “we need to focus on what we have done here” at this Meeting in the Vatican, and to tackle “the systemic roots of the problem”. These, the themes of the three days of the Meeting, reflect both the problem and the solution: Responsibility, Accountability, and Transparency.