For the first time in history, the Vatican is holding a summit to address child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis opened the four-day summit on Thursday, the New York Times reports. “The holy people of God look at us and await from us not simple and obvious condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to put into place. Concreteness is required,” he said in his opening remarks before 190 leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. “I ask the Holy Spirit to support us in these days and to help us to transform this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification. May the Virgin Mary enlighten us to try to cure the serious wounds that the scandal of pedophilia has caused both in children and in believers.”
But the pope has been calling for “decisive action” since he was elected in 2013 and recently acknowledged the widespread sexual abuse of nuns within the Church, but just last January, he defended a Chilean bishop who allegedly protected a priest accused of child sexual abuse (he has since accepted resignations from several Chilean bishops over the alleged cover-up).
The Church has faced sexual abuse allegations for decades, with thousands of victims suffering at the hands of clergy. In August, a report from a grand jury in Pennsylvania identified more than 1,000 victims, and found that the Church has been protecting the alleged abusers for 70 years. In July, a group of nuns alleged that they had been abused by other priests and nuns in the Church.
Thursday’s session included video testimonies from survivors (though none appeared in person), per the New York Times:
“The first thing they did was to treat me as a liar, turn their backs and tell me that I, and others, were enemies of the Church,’’ one victim, apparently from Chile, said of the church leaders.
‘‘This pattern exists not only in Chile,’’ the victim added. ‘‘It exists all over the world, and this must end.”
Another victim talked about becoming pregnant three times by a priest who started abusing her at age 15, and being forced by him each time to have an abortion.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines said at the summit that “each of us and our brothers at sisters at home must take responsibility” for aiding victims, but stressed “unconditional love for those who have done wrong.” The comments illustrate an underlying attitude prevalent among church leaders who may feel sorry for the victims, but fail to take direct accountability for abuse, and even see the accused as victims.
The New York Times reports that, while the summit seeks to instruct church leaders on the “depth and universality of the problem and how to deal with it,” it’s unlikely that survivors or their advocates are going to see the concrete action they really want: a zero-tolerance policy for both abusers and those who protect them.