Awareness and Purification

"Awareness and Purification"

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What Catholic-school communities need to know about the sexual abuse crisis.

By Barb Szyszkiewicz

In February 2019, Church leaders gathered in Rome to meet with Pope Francis, abuse victims, and experts and discuss the sexual abuse crisis and its effect on the Church around the world.

At, you can read more about the meetings that took place: The Vatican Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church.

Now, the full documents of that meeting are available for schools, parishes, and individuals to read and study. Twenty-Third Publications, a division of Bayard, Inc. (the publisher of Today’s Catholic Teacher), has compiled the text of all presentations, including witness statements by abuse victims, in the book Awareness and Purification.

Awareness and Purification

Journalist Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, notes in the Introduction:

The meeting in the Vatican, which one can follow day by day through these pages, was not just a punch to the gut that made the participants more conscious of the devastating action of evil and sin and therefore of the need to ask forgiveness by invoking the help of divine grace. The summit also attested to the firm intention to give substance to what emerged with effective operational action, because the awareness of the gravity of sin and the constant appeal to heaven for help, which characterized the meeting at the Vatican, go hand in hand with a renewed operational commitment to ensure that ecclesial environments will become always safer for minors and vulnerable adults, in the hope that this commitment can also spread to all other sectors of our societies. (2)

The documents are not easy to read, because they deal with an evil that strikes close to home. But that makes it all the more necessary for Catholics involved in the education of our children to read them, to learn about the scope of the scandal, its effects on victims and communities, and what can be done in the future to protect the vulnerable in our Church.

Twenty-Third Publications has also compiled a Group Study Guide for Awareness and Purification, which breaks down the material from February’s meeting into five small-group sessions for discussion and study. The guide is only available with the purchase of Awareness and Purification; it is not a standalone item. Here are the topics covered in the guide:

  • Session one: Admit the offenses
  • Session two: Be accountable
  • Session three: Be transparent
  • Session four: Make a plan
  • Session five: Move forward

Also included in the guide is advice for group facilitators in handling discussion on sensitive and difficult topics. The study guide, meant for each participant to use during the discussions, includes space for note-taking and questions for discussion.

Here is a sample page from the study guide (page numbers in the section quoted below refer to Awareness and Purification):

Session 3: Transparency

1. Openness to the World by Sr. Veronica Openibo (pages 101–110)

Read her material on “Transparency” on pages 104–106 (making notes in the space provided below).

Pay special attention to the final paragraph of this section:
“It is true, as a Church, that we believe in repentance of the sinner, in conversion of hearts and
the grace of transformation, ‘Go and from now on do not sin any more,’ says Jesus (John 8:1–11).
This can create a strong dilemma for some, especially when we know that abusers have often been
victims themselves. Do we need to probe deeply what we mean by justice with compassion?”

Discuss… How can we establish “justice with compassion” in the Church? How do you respond to
retired and aged clerics who have recently been found guilty of abuse when they were younger?

Read aloud point #3 (page 107) from her section entitled “Strategic way forward” (making notes in the
space provided below).

Discuss… What is your response to the continued privilege and special treatment given to those
seeking holy orders? What solutions do you propose?

How will your school or parish community continue to dialogue about the clerical sexual abuse crisis?

Read our other articles about clerical sexual abuse:

Coping with the Church Sex Scandals: Resources for Teachers and Schools

Discussing Church Scandal in the Classroom

Learn about Pope Francis’ mandate on the reporting and investigation of clerical sexual abuse, Vos Estis Lux Mundi.

At A Crisis Point in Church History

At Coping with Church Sex Abuse Scandals: Resources

At The Vatican Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church

Other related articles at


Excerpts above from Awareness and Purification: Acts of the Meeting for the Protection of Minors in the Church and Awareness and Purification Group Study Guide, both copyright 2019. Published by Twenty-Third Publications ( Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Barb Szyszkiewicz is managing editor of Today’s Catholic Teacher and editor of Follow her on Twitter @franciscanmom.

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