Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Reflection on the plenary in Rome: the protection of minors in the church

Thursday, March 7, 2019

To read this column in Spanish, click here.

The historic meeting on the protection of children convened by the Holy Father Feb. 21-24 set the direction of the entire global church on the question of child safety.

Our firm resolve and the actions we will take are the direct result of our listening to victim-survivors throughout the meeting. Their unflinching witness moved the hearts of the participants and the world and led us to commit to a common mission of making the church a safe place for all, achieved by taking personal responsibility, holding bishops accountable and practicing transparency.

The nine talks over three days were given by presenters approved by the Holy Father. There was no glossing over the problem as each of the speakers pointed out the failures of bishops to act responsibly and described the damage done by their lack of accountability and transparency.

Pope Francis built on what was said in the various talks by making it clear at the end of the Mass on Sunday that the church’s agenda in protecting children must be proactive, not reactive or defensive. He insisted that the church will spare no effort to hold abusers accountable and will not tolerate cover ups.

The Holy Father has already begun the transformation of the church’s approach to child abuse. The pope’s apostolic letter, “Like a Loving Mother,” provided for the removal of a bishop on the basis of incompetence rather than the higher level of proof of fault in handing cases of abuse. Additionally, the way has been cleared for episcopal conferences to establish procedures for holding bishops accountable should they abuse minors or mishandle cases.

The all-out effort the pope has called for will continue to build over time and will be marked by a commitment to ongoing learning and improving, particularly by listening to victim-survivors of abuse. Four concrete steps were announced at the end of the meeting.

1. The imminent publication of a motu proprio by the pope, providing rules and regulations to safeguard minors and vulnerable adults within the Vatican City State;

2. The distribution of a “vademecum” (or rulebook) to bishops around the world, standardizing guidelines so church leaders everywhere take on this task in a united way and explaining their juridical and pastoral duties and responsibilities regarding protecting children;

3. Recognizing that the global church is marked by great cultural diversity and unique regional challenges, task forces of competent experts that are culturally sensitive and regionally representative will be organized to assist bishops’ conferences that may lack the necessary resources or expertise to fully address the issue of safeguarding minors and dealing with abuse;

4. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is responsible for approving the norms of each bishops’ conference.

I invite you to view the major talks, prayer services with testimonies of victims, the penitential ceremony and Mass, all of which were live-streamed, so the entire world could follow this event. The videos and talks are posted on the Vatican’s dedicated website at



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