Along with the usual crowds of tourists, ticket hawkers, and speeding taxis, several important events took place in Rome, today.

At an early event at the Center for Child Protection, some touted a new program meant to curb clergy sex abuse worldwide.

At the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome, the Center for Child Protection, founded in 2012 and headed by Jesuit Hans Zollner, also a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, launched a new master’s program in child protection. With only a diploma program until now, this is an important extension of their work to build a cadre of experts worldwide.

During the launch, Zollner registered the seismic shift occurring around the world as women, even in very traditional regions, have begun to claim their own authority over clergy sex abuse by naming prelates who, historically, have been able to keep such crimes under wraps.

Pointing to the case of the public protest by women religious in Kerala in the face of the alleged rape of one of their sisters by a bishop who has now been arrested, Zollner observed, “Even more surprising somehow, there were women in Kerala, of all places, that were protesting and marching in support of the religious sister. Even two years ago, you could not imagine such a thing.”

Zollner acknowledged male clerics face “a steep learning curve” saying that, in the future, the program will have to address the full complement of prejudices that create the foundation for this rape culture.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, also a panelist, continued in a similar vein observing that women themselves are producing the change by taking a revolutionary stand. Referring what was happening at the Synod, Marx said that the bishops can also see that women are coming together and saying, “What is this here? We don’t accept this any longer.”

Some have suggested that he may have also been thinking about our “Let Women Vote” protest in front of the Synod where police strong armed our colleagues. Maybe so!

Seeking Assurances on Chastity Rules

Yesterday, on the opening day of the Synod, Briana Regina Santiago from Texas told the Synod leaders that young Catholics “should be met where we are – intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, socially and physically.”

Today, eight young Catholic auditors spoke along twenty bishops and the Prior of Taize, Brother Alois.

The theme of listening to young people came through again and again.

Citing some of the speakers, Vatican Radio reported, “Young people want to have an adult who will listen to them, dedicate their time to them, welcome them with empathy and respect, accompany them in their discernment—even with regard to their vocation—and not judge them.”

At the press briefing, Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of Communications, gave the daily report. He was accompanied by Archbishop Manuel Ochogavía Barahona, O.S.A. of Panama; Archbishop Anthony Colin Fisher, O.P. of Australia; and Ms. Tahiry Malala Marion Sophie Rakotoroalahy, auditor, national president of Catholic Students in Madagascar.

Along with the emphasis on becoming a listening church, addressing matters of sexuality and especially focusing on pre-marital sex were discussed. Ruffini pointed out that young people were quite forthright. Young auditors explained that by pressing Catholic rules about pre-marital sex, the Church may indeed pressure people to marry before they are ready. Noting the normalcy of sexual intimacy, especially in long term relationships, young adults cautioned clerics about pressuring young Catholics into chastity or abstinence. The result may well be that these Catholics will walk away from the Church altogether.

In response to Ruffini, during the Q & A, conservative Italian journalist, Sandro Magister, in a booming voice asked, “Does that mean the Catholic Church is going to change the teaching on pre-marital sex?”

Australian Archbishop Fisher’s response was a short “no”, but a few muffled laughs could be heard in the room as the archbishop smiled him down.

The archbishop from Panama talked about the Preferential Option for the Young noting that the whole church should accompany young people with compassion through their suffering.

The final speaker, Tahiry Malala Marion Sophie Rakotoroalahy, spoke forcefully about the need to include young people in leadership roles. She also spoke about the need to improve liturgies and homilies so that young people are attracted to the church.

During the Q & A, one reporter asked if the role of women was being examined in the synod hall.

Ruffini stated that the topic was certainly being discussed. While qualifying his response and noting the difficulties of discussing women’s roles in a variety of contexts and cultures, he made it clear that those at the synod believe women must be incorporated more fully into decision making roles within the Church.

When another reporter asked if LGBT issues had been discussed, Ruffini said that they had not been discussed yet.

Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service, who always seems to hone in on the question everyone is asking, inquired about Archbishop Fisher’s first person apology to youth that day referring to clergy sex abuse and other failures of the Church.

Fisher replied, “I was very aware that in my context, that there are lot of young people hurting or who were young when they were hurt. Trust has been terribly damaged. The church needs to speak directly to them, how sorry we are, how much we want to help, and how to go forward.”

Fisher went on to share his shame at not making the church “the safest place for young people.”

I have to admit that tears filled my eyes as he spoke. People who are authentic, honest, and who embody real humility have the power to break into our pained hearts and heal a bit of the hurt lodged so deeply there. If all our bishops follow suit, we would have a church that is safe for everyone, including children, women, and LBGTQI people.

It is clear that young people are speaking up. We can only guess if the bishops will listen and act. But it is clear that if they seek a more vibrant church, they have no other real choices.