Cardinal Sean O’Malley said over the weekend in Rome that addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church “must be the priority that we concentrate on right now,” with survivors providing insight to Vatican officials.
O’Malley’s remarks came at the conclusion of the three-day Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a group the Boston cardinal heads. His interview was published on the website of Vatican News, a publication of the Holy See’s media wing.
“Bringing the voice of survivors to the leadership of the church is crucial,” O’Malley said. “We see, particularly in light of the present situation, how if the church is unable to respond wholeheartedly and make this a priority, all of our other activities of evangelization . . . are all going to suffer.”
O’Malley was apparently referring to the fallout from the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington who stepped down in July from the College of Cardinals amid allegations that he sexually abused minors and adult seminarians.
In August, O’Malley publicly apologized for the way his office handled a 2015 letter from a New York priest alleging sexual abuse by McCarrick. O’Malley’s secretary did not deliver the letter to the cardinal at the time, on the grounds that the commission is not empowered to deal with individual complaints.
Last week, retired Monsignor Kenneth Lasch of Pompton Plains, N.J., told the Globe that O’Malley’s secretary had “dismissed” his written concerns in January that a current priest in the Diocese of Paterson allegedly had seduced an 18-year-old man from Lasch’s parish in the mid-1980s.
On Friday, the Archdiocese of Boston announced that, in a policy change, the cardinal now reviews “all letters that come to his office related to the commission or are abuse-related, even if they address matters outside his authority.”
During his interview with Vatican News, O’Malley said his commission’s mandate is to develop best practices for abuse prevention, training, and responding “quickly and correctly any time a situation of abuse may arise.”
“We are not a body that deals with past cases or particular situations,” O’Malley said. “We are trying to change the future so that there will not be a repeat of the sad history.”
The commission has held more than 100 conferences throughout the world, O’Malley said, with major events forthcoming in locales that include Brazil, Mexico, Poland, and Colombia.
Commission members are “trying to make the church the very safest place possible,” O’Malley said.
Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who has represented many clergy sex abuse victims, was unmoved by O’Malley’s remarks.
“The Catholic Church, with its miserable history of covering up clergy sexual abuse, fails to admit that clergy sexual abuse must be investigated before it can be properly prevented,” Garabedian said Monday in a statement. “The Catholic Church’s failure to investigate clergy sexual abuse is just meant to continue the wholesale cover up of the abuse.”
O’Malley also faces scrutiny over recent allegations of sexual misconduct at a Brighton seminary that surfaced on social media. He ordered an outside review of the seminary.
During the weekend commission meeting in Rome, members “began by listening to two testimonies of people who were affected by clerical child sexual abuse, a victim/survivor and the mother of two adult survivors who were abused as children,” according to a statement posted to Vatican News. “The commission thanks them for sharing their stories with us, for the courage of their witness and for contributing to the learning process.”