Europe

Concrete steps to deal with child abuse needed: Pope

VATICAN CITY • Pope Francis yesterday opened a landmark summit at the Vatican on fighting child sex abuse, saying that the world expected “concrete measures” on tackling paedophilia in the Catholic Church.

The pontiff will dedicate the next 31/2 days to discussing the church’s response to child abuse by members of the clergy with bishops from around the world.

“The Holy people of God are watching and waiting not for simple and obvious condemnations but concrete and efficient measures,” he said as the summit opened, the first of its kind. “Let us listen to the cry of the young ones who ask us for justice,” he said.

The Pope is aiming to tackle the continuing scandal, which again hit the church last year in various countries, including Chile, Germany and the United States.

The 82-year-old pontiff hopes to raise awareness about the abuse through prayers, speeches, working groups and victim testimonies.

“I ask the Holy Spirit to support us in the following days and help us to transform this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification,” Pope Francis said. “May the Virgin Mary enlighten us to try to cure the serious wounds caused by the scandal of paedophilia both in children and in believers.”

The summit aims to educate 114 top bishops who will then return home with clear ideas on how to spot and deal with abuse and paedophilia. The task is made difficult by the fact that some churches, in Asia and Africa in particular, deny the problem exists.

“My hope would be that people see this as a turning point,” said American Cardinal Blase Cupich, among the Pope’s trusted allies in the United States and one of the summit’s four organisers.

The church in the US has been shaken by one of the gravest crises in its history, with the defrocking last week by Pope Francis of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick over accusations that he sexually abused a teenager 50 years ago.

“It’s not the end game, 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,” Cardinal Cupich said ahead of the meeting.

Three themes – responsibility, accountability and transparency – form the backbone of the summit and will provide its participants with the keys to ensuring child safety, he said.

Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, another of the summit’s organisers, said there are reforms in the pipeline, such as the “tweaking” of certain canon laws.

But the suggestion that church laws need only fine-tuning has angered many, including Ms Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a public database that documents cases of proven or suspected cleric sex crimes. “Canon law has to be changed: not tweaked, not modified, but fundamentally changed, so that it stops prioritising the priesthood… over the lives of children, and vulnerable adults who are sexually assaulted by them,” she said.

Archbishop Scicluna insists that summoning church leaders from all continents to Rome “is in itself a very important message”.

The Maltese spent 10 years as the Vatican’s top prosecutor on paedophilia cases, and was picked by Pope 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 beleaguered institution.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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