Video: Cardinal on new task force: Regaining Catholics’ trust begins with ‘a profound sense of responsibility’

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CHICAGO — In their first interview since Pope Francis named them among the leaders of a new worldwide task force on sexual abuse protections, Cardinal Blase Cupich and the Rev. Hans Zollner this week sketched out how they plan to help Catholic leaders across the world comply with new protection guidelines.

The task force was created by Francis to help bishops write new local guidelines to adhere to universal church rules issued last year.

Zollner, who heads the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University, called the latest move by Francis “unprecedented,” as it is the first time the pope has taken measures to ensure rules to protect children are quickly adopted and practiced around the world.

“This is the first time the (pope) has taken into his own hands the speeding up of the process,” Zollner said in an interview he and Cupich gave Monday to the Tribune.

Zollner was in Chicago for his first appearances following the creation of the task force: a talk with Chicago priests and a lecture at DePaul University.

During his lecture Monday night, Zollner spoke about the challenges the church faces as it works to safeguard children and vulnerable adults.

“Sexual abuse is very powerful in its consequences and its outcomes,” Zollner said. “I believe as long as we don’t acknowledge that, we have to live with the burden; we’re not as free as we could be.”

Last week, when Francis announced the creation of the new task force, Cupich was the only American cleric selected to the committee that will oversee the global task force.

But as the global church and Chicago continue working through this crisis, Cupich said the church should focus on helping people and not regaining the confidence of Catholics.

“That will come on their terms, not ours,” Cupich said. “Regaining trust has to begin with a profound sense of responsibility for making sure what happened in the past doesn’t happen again.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, who was invited to the Vatican by Francis after the pope heard about his childhood abuse by a Chilean priest and joined Zollner and Cupich in speaking with the Tribune, said the church has made vast improvements in canon law and papal secrecy, but it needs to be transparent moving forward.

“There is this big wound that you can’t sweep under the rug, that you have to deal with,” he said. “And if you do things right, confidence will come back — but you have to do things right.”

Last year, Francis issued the two church rules to address the global sex abuse crisis. The first mandated Catholic Church officials around the world report clergy sexual abuse and attempts to cover it up to their superiors. This was the first global policy that held clergy accountable for misconduct and cover-ups.

Then in December, Francis abolished the church’s highest form of secrecy in sexual abuse cases, a move that allowed church officials to share information about abuse allegations with civil authorities under more circumstances.

Some church officials, including in Chicago, had already begun providing information about sexual abuse allegations to civil authorities. That cooperation technically violated a decree adopted in 2001 that classified the information a “pontifical secret.”

A Chicago leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Larry Antonsen, said he is taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to the rules.

“Talk is pretty cheap,” Antonsen said. “I’ll wait to see some action.”

The sexual abuse crisis has put enormous pressure on the Catholic Church to address priestly sexual abuse, a scourge that has smeared the credibility of the church.

And although Chicago has been at the forefront of dealing with the issue of clergy sexual abuse for nearly three decades, Cupich said the church must remain accountable.

“We must be humble by accepting what was done in the past and taking the shame that goes with it,” he said Monday. Cupich added that the church must continue to learn even as it reshapes its guidelines and policies.

“There’s never a moment in which we can say we have this all figured out,” Cupich said.

Despite some grave missteps, the Archdiocese of Chicago has been viewed as being ahead of other dioceses in dealing with clergy sexual abuse. In 1992, the archdiocese established a hotline for reporting abuse and adopted policies and procedures for the safeguarding of children, which ultimately served as the model for the charter adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops a decade later.

Last year, an independent review of the archdiocese’s child sexual abuse policies said church officials needed to improve how they identify, report and discipline “boundary violations” and other behaviors that could lead to abuse.

The review came only months after then-Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan released a report that accused Catholic dioceses in Illinois of failing victims by neglecting to investigate their allegations. The report said that 690 priests were accused of abuse, and only 185 names had been made public by the dioceses as having credible allegations against them.

Church officials in Chicago pushed back against Madigan’s report, saying the report lumped all the Illinois’ dioceses together and did not specify the time and date of the alleged abuse. The Archdiocese of Chicago has reported all allegations of child sexual abuse to civil authorities since 2002, including all historical allegations, church officials said.

In 2006, former Catholic priest Daniel McCormack was accused of sexually abusing more than two dozen boys and young men, primarily at St. Agatha’s Parish on Chicago’s West Side, where he coached basketball and taught math. McCormack pleaded guilty to sexually abusing five boys and was sentenced to five years in prison.

But while his tenure has seen priests removed from duty because of abuse and other sexual allegations, most of the issues in Chicago preceded Cupich, and he has been picked twice by the pope to help organize and lead the church in its sexual abuse reforms.


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