Pope Francis yesterday opened a red-letter global child protection summit for reflections on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church as victims tired of hearing pledges for change clamored for incisive reforms.
The pontiff has set aside three-and-a-half days to convince Catholic bishops to tackle pedophilia in a bid to contain a scandal that hit an already beleaguered Church again last year, from Chile to Germany and the US.
Francis, 82, hopes to raise awareness through prayers, speeches, working groups and testimonies from victims. The idea is that the 114 heads of bishops’ conferences will return home with clear ideas on how to spot and deal with abuse.
The task is made difficult by some churches, in Asia and Africa in particular, denying that problems exists.
“My hope would be that people see this as a turning point,” said US Cardinal Blase Cupich, one of the pope’s trusted allies in the US and one of the summit’s four organizers.
The US Catholic Church has been shaken by one of the gravest crises in its history, with the defrocking last week by Pope Francis of a US former cardinal — Theodore McCarrick — over accusations that he sexually abused a teenager 50 years ago.
“It’s not the endgame, no one can ever say that ... [but] we’re going to do everything possible so people are held responsible, accountable and that there is going to be transparency,” Cupich told reporters ahead of the meeting.
The three themes — responsibility, accountability and transparency — were to form the backbone of the summit and provide its 190 participants with the keys to ensuring child safety, he said.
There are reforms in the pipeline, such as the “tweaking” of certain canon laws, said Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, another of the organizers.
However, the suggestion that Church laws need only fine-tuning has angered many, including Anne Barrett Doyle, codirector of BishopAccountability.org, a public database that documents cases of proven or suspected clerical sex crimes.
“Canon law has to be changed — not tweaked, not modified, but fundamentally changed, so that it stops prioritizing the priesthood ... over the lives of children, and vulnerable adults who are sexually assaulted by them,” she said.
Scicluna said that summoning Church leaders from all continents to Rome “is in itself a very important message”.
Scicluna spent 10 years as the Vatican’s top prosecutor on pedophilia cases and was picked by Francis to travel to Chile last year to hear from victims whose voices had previously been silenced by an internal Church cover-up.
He has called for an end to the code of silence and culture of denial within the centuries-old institution.
“Silence is a no-go, whether you call it omerta or simply a state of denial,” he said this week. “We have to face facts, because only the truth of the matter, and confronting the facts, will make us free.”
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