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Cardinal O’Malley says Vatican meeting was ‘a huge step forward’

Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley listened to reporters’ questions at a media briefing last month during a four-day sex abuse summit called by Pope Francis.
Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley listened to reporters’ questions at a media briefing last month during a four-day sex abuse summit called by Pope Francis.Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press/File 2019/Associated Press

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley says the recently concluded meeting at the Vatican was a “huge step forward” that educated many of the bishops attending about the clergy sex abuse problem that has plagued the Roman Catholic Church.

“For many of the bishops, I think the conference was a very transformative experience. For many of them, it was the first time that they were listening to victim/survivors; it was the first time they were hearing about the challenges of safeguarding and the responsibility of the bishops,” O’Malley said in a post on his blog Friday.

O’Malley said the meeting drew the leaders of more than a billion Catholics worldwide.

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He said they “realized that this is something the whole Church must work to address to ensure the safety of children. We may not have resolved all the issues that we face in the United States around the accountability of bishops and so forth, but for the Universal Church I think it was a huge step forward.”

O’Malley also said, “Obviously, we are looking for concrete measures to come out of this meeeting,” noting that Vatican officials have promised to disseminate a handbook “to help people to know, every step of the way, what the response needs to be in individual dioceses.”

O’Malley said that in many parts of the world the clergy sex abuse problem is “dismissed as an American or Western phenomenon. So, the conference was designed particularly to underscore the universal nature of the problem and to demonstrate to bishops all over the world that the leadership in the Church must own the problem and commit to making safeguarding their priority.”

The pope ended the meeting last month with a call for “for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors,” but the speech did not offer concrete policies. Church officials have hinted that policy changes were on the horizon. In the past year or so, clergy sex abuse has been in the headlines in America and abroad.

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O’Malley said the commission he leads, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, would meet to continue working on an auditing process that will allow for “an independent evaluation of the implementation of child protection policies in each bishops’ conference.” A bishops’ conference is the group of bishops responsible for a given country or territory.