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After sex abuse summit, victims press Vatican for action

Pope announces ‘all-out battle’ on child sexual abuse, but campaigners are not convinced.

Tuesday 26 February, 2019
Members of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent survivors and activists who are in Rome and the Vatican for this week’s papal summit, stand for a protest on St. Peter's Square by St. Peter's basilica on February 24, 2019
Members of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent survivors and activists who are in Rome and the Vatican for this week’s papal summit, stand for a protest on St. Peter's Square by St. Peter's basilica on February 24, 2019 Foto:ATP/Vincenzo Pinto

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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, Pope Francis promised an "all-out battle" against the scourge that has done so much damage to the Church's reputation worldwide.

Victims' groups, however, 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," said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org.

As a mark of good faith, the Vatican announced an interministerial meeting Monday on the protection of minors.

Urging more tangible progress, BishopAccountability.org and fellow campaigning group End Clergy Abuse (ECA) 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," said Peter Isely, spokesman for Ending Clergy Abuse.

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."

Campaigners say that any cleric found guilty of even a single act of child sexual abuse should be permanently removed from the priesthood - as should any bishop or religious superior helping cover it up.

They also added that all abusers or suspected abusers should be reported to the civil authorities, and any abuse-related files handed over to them. The Church should also draw up a public list of all abusers, past and present. 

People 'starting to listen

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, at ECA, 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 organisations nevertheless remained optimistic of change.

"People are hearing our voices around the world this week. And they are listening to us," said Isely.

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, 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 IUSG 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."

The IUSG Monday urged the creation of defined structures to deal with complaints.

"We are encouraging religious women who have been abused, sexually, psycho-spiritually, even in terms of harassment, bullying -- there are lots of different ways in which a woman can be abused ... to report that," said Murray.

- Times/AFP

 

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