ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Vatican official with a frontline view of clergy sexual abuse allegations is claiming common ground with Catholic media.
Monsignor John Kennedy, Head of the Vatican Disciplinary Section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) since 2017, delivered the plenary address at the Catholic Media Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida Wednesday.
He said that his office and members of the Catholic media "share the same goal, which is the protection of minors, and we have the same wish to leave the world a little better than how we found it."
Speaking to the primary position of his work, Kennedy said, "The topic of the clergy abuse crisis is front and center in our culture," adding, "Certainly, no theological topic or any other kind of heresy comes close."
With the sometimes "anguished assessment" that one journalist said characterized Kennedy's speech, he said, "For me it [the clergy abuse crisis] is at the heart, at the very core, and some have even suggested that the church's heart has been broken in this crisis."
The Vatican official described the toll his work has had on him personally, his 17 staff members and the bishops who report cases of abuse to his office.
"I can honestly tell you that, when reading cases involving sexual abuse by clerics, you never get used to it, and you can feel your heart and soul hurting," said Kennedy. "There are times when I am pouring over cases that I want to get up and scream, that I want to pack up my things and leave the office and not come back."
"I have seen bishops who were once smiling pastors turned into morose, burdened figures," referring to bishops who wept when reporting cases.
The Vatican official said how "[o]ne cardinal said to me as he looked at the piles of disciplinary cases in front of him that we only deal with problems." Kennedy replied, "It is important to remember that we may receive problems but that our main task is to offer solutions."
The monsignor said that whatever pain he may feel, it "is nothing compared to those who have borne this for years in silence," foregrounding the pain of the victims and their families.
"What of the father, mother or siblings of the child who have to look at that child and live through this?" he asked. "Everything has been taken from them."
Originally from the archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland, Kennedy has worked at the CDF since 2003, when it was led by then-Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict) who had been entrusted with the office by Pope St. John Paul II.
"When the pope entrusted the work to Cardinal Ratzinger's office," said Kennedy, "he was instinctively aware of the impact these cases would have both on the credibility of the church's mission but more importantly on the faith life of a person who had been abused."
The Vatican head said his office has now surpassed doctrine as the largest of the four offices (doctrinal, disciplinary, matrimonial and clerical) that comprise the CDF.
Kennedy praised Pope Francis' "Vos Estis Lux Mundi," calling it "a welcome development" that makes "the denunciation of sexual crimes an obligation." He added that the Church should not wait until the press uncovers abuse cases to report them.
Encouraging the press, the priest said that his office, while bound by rules of confidentiality as it seeks to investigate cases, shares with journalists a desire to speak about the truth for the common good.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in a recent written interview with The Washington Post was more hard-hitting: "Why are journalists letting them [those participating in acts of sexual abuse and their cover-ups] get away with this?"
"Journalists should be digging for the facts, interviewing the victims, following the money and promotion trails, and uncovering the corrupt networks," said Viganò. "There are so many cases to go after."
Kennedy expressed hope that the services of his office would one day not be needed. "I wish that we will be able to work ourselves out of a job," he said, so that "my priest colleagues can go back to what they were ordained to do."
The Vatican official received a standing ovation at the end of his address.