Pope Francis told ecclesiastical leaders gathered for a major summit on combating sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church that they must find “concrete” solutions to end the crisis. The Summit titled “The Protection of Minors in the Church” Featured approximately 200 church leaders from across the world. Francis implored the leaders to find ways to fight what he called “this evil afflicting the Church and humanity. I wanted to consult you, Patriarchs, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Religious Superiors and Leaders, so that together we might listen to the Holy Spirit and, hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice,” stated the pontiff.
“The people of God looks to us, and expect concrete and effective measures to be undertaken.” Francis said. Francis also asked for “the Holy Spirit to sustain us throughout these days, and to help us to turn this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification.” Part of the agenda for the meeting included having the church leaders watch pre-recorded testimonies from abuse victims, including an unnamed person from Chile. “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,” stated the person. “This pattern exists not only in Chile, it exists all over the world, and this must end.”
Over the past several years, the Catholic Church has struggled with handling a sex abuse scandal in which many priests were found to have abused children while their superiors sought to cover-up their actions. Last August, a Pennsylvania grand jury reignited outrage over the scandal when they released a 1,300-page report documenting how 301 priests abused more than 1,000 children, with the church hierarchy covering up their crimes. In response to these and other revelations of abuse across the world, Francis announced last September that there would be a meeting at the Vatican to deal with the sex abuse problem.
“This is a new day in terms of transparency,” said Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, one of the meeting organizers. “Bishops are going to be held accountable. My hope is that people see this as a turning point.” Pope Francis concluded by vowing to confront abusers with “the wrath of God”. Francis also pledged to end the cover-ups by their superiors and prioritise victims of this “brazen, aggressive and destructive evil”. The Jesuit pope noted that the vast majority of sexual abuse happens in the family. And he offered a global review of the broader societal problem of sexual tourism and online pornography, in a bid to contextualise what he said was once a taboo subject.
But he said the sexual abuse of children becomes even more scandalous when it occurs in the Church, “for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility. We need to recognise with humility and courage that we stand face-to-face with the mystery of evil, which strikes most violently against the most vulnerable, for they are an image of Jesus,” he said. Francis summoned the bishops from around the world to the four-day meeting to impress upon them that clergy sex abuse and cover-ups are not just a problem in some countries but a global problem that threatens the very mission of the Catholic Church.
“Brothers and sisters, today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil,” the pope said. He offered an eight-point pledge of priorities going forward, calling for a change in the church’s defensive mentality and a vow to never again cover-up cases. Victims, he said, must take centre stage while priests must undergo a continuing path of purity with the “holy fear of God” guiding the examination of their own failures. “In people’s justified anger, the church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons,” he said.
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