After a historic Vatican summit on child sexual abuse by priests, campaigners are demanding that the Catholic Church now turns words and resolutions into action.
At the end of three days of debate on Sunday, Pope Francis promised an “all-out battle” against the scourge that has done so much damage to the church’s reputation worldwide.
However, victims’ groups reacted sharply to the tone of his speech and what they said was a lack of concrete measures.
“The pope has announced a battle against child abuse, but he has the weakest weapons imaginable,” BishopAccountability.org codirector Anne Barrett Doyle said.
As a mark of good faith, the Vatican announced an interministerial meeting on Monday on the protection of minors.
Urging more tangible progress, BishopAccountability.org and fellow campaigning group End Clergy Abuse have drawn up a 21-point plan of action for the pope.
Their “Points of Action for Pope Francis” was intended to sharpen the Vatican’s good intentions, as the pontiff set out in his points of reflection at the start of the summit.
“These aren’t reflection points, these are action points, battle plans,” Ending Clergy Abuse spokesman Peter Isely said.
Referring to the pope, Doyle said: “If he were to do the 21 points in this list, he would end this scourge once and for all.”
Their plan of action pulls no punches.
Any cleric found guilty of even a single act of child sexual abuse should be permanently removed from the priesthood, they said — as should any bishop or religious superior helping cover it up.
All abusers or suspected abusers should be reported to the civil authorities and any abuse-related files handed over to them, the campaigners added.
The church should also draw up a public list of all abusers, past and present, they said.
After eight victims of sexual abuse told the summit what they had endured at the hands of priests, journalists asked the Vatican if those responsible had been punished — but the church was unable to say.
For Isely, this was unacceptable.
“Are you saying that these ‘ravenous wolves’ might be out there right now, tearing apart children, and you don’t know who they are?” he asked, borrowing a phrase used by the pope in his speech.
Both organizations nevertheless remained optimistic of change.
“People are hearing our voices around the world this week, and they are listening to us,” Isely said.
Referring to the Vatican and the Catholic Church itself, he said: “There is a lot of good here, but to find the good, we have to first face the evil that’s here.”
On Monday, the International Union of Superiors General (IUSG), which represents 600,000 Catholic nuns, also promised to do better.
Ten members of the IUSG board were invited to attend this summit.
IUSG secretary-general Sister Patricia Murray vowed action to ensure “that never again will this happen because of our lack of action or our blindness.”
Sister Veronica Openibo, another union board member, gave a hard-hitting speech to the summit denouncing the church’s long silence on this issue.
“I felt that there were people, bishops, cardinals, who did not believe some of the things I was saying,” the Nigerian nun told journalists. “Some African bishops thought there were more important issues.”
“The greatest work now is to give hope — hope to the victims, and to our children for tomorrow. Because if we don’t act now, it will be too late: because the credibility of the church is at stake,” she said.
The IUSG urged the creation of defined structures to deal with complaints.
“We are encouraging religious women who have been abused, sexually, psychospiritually, even in terms of harassment, bullying — there are lots of different ways in which a woman can be abused... to report that,” Murray said.