Survivors of church sex abuse descended on Rome this week, marking the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ summit of Church leaders on preventing abuse with calls for more accountability and acknowledgment of their pain.
On Thursday, three deaf-mute Argentines marched to St. Peter’s Square. They were among the victims of violent sexual abuse by priests in the Argentine branch of the Instituto Antonio Próvolo, a Catholicrun school for the deaf that also saw dozens of victims at its school in Verona, Italy.
Recently, an Argentine court convicted two Provolo priests, Nicola Corradi and Horacio Corbacho, of repeatedly abusing and raping the children — including one who also was flagged to Francis as early as in 2014 as an abuser in Verona. They both received jail terms of more than 40 years behind bars.
“Support the Próvolo survivors,” read a banner carried by the victims in front of St. Peter’s Square. The survivors are demanding “justice” and “reparation” from the Church.
“We have suffered a lot. I need a law that forces the Vatican not to cover up more [crimes]. The deaf have suffered abuse from priests and we need this to change,” Daniel Sgardelis, 45, told the press in sign language. at a press conference close to the Holy See.
“I do not like the Church. They have abused a lot and I need this to stop. The pope is there quiet, in the Vatican, without giving us proof. That has to stop. This is enough,” said Ezequiel Villalonga, 19, speaking through an interpreter.
The victims say they are seeking “justice” and reparations, as well as a promise that what they suffered will not be repeated elsewhere in the world.
The trio have requested a meeting with the pontiff, during their stay in Rome, which ends today. They have yet to receive a response – publicly or privately – from the Vatican.
Also marching was Mary Dispenza, a survivor of abuse by both a priest and a nun. She and members of the US-based victims’ advocacy group SNAP walked to the headquarters of the umbrella group of religious sisters and secured a meeting with its executive secretary, Sister Patricia Murray.
Their aim was to request that the organisation, UISG, speak out more about the unacknowledged problem of nuns who sexually abuse children and other nuns. Much of the abuse crisis has focused on priests raping and molesting children. Little has been said or done about the problem of abuses committed by nuns.
“Did we accomplish anything? I’m not sure. Sister Patricia was genuine in her concern,” Dispenza told The Associated Press in an email.
This week’s activism has been sparked by the one-year anniversary of Francis’ February 21-24, 2019, summit, during which he convened the heads of national synods from around the world for a four-day tutorial on preventing sexual abuse.
He called the summit after he himself misjudged the scope of the scandal, especially in Chile, and after the scandal re-ignited in the US following revelations of decades of systemic cover-up in Pennsylvania and the case of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Francis defrocked the US church leader for abusing adults and children.
In the year since the summit, Francis has passed two major legal reforms: He has removed the so-called pontifical secrecy from sex abuse cases, meaning bishops and religious superiors now can cooperate more freely with law enforcement during criminal investigations of abusers. And he passed a law requiring all abuse be reported to the Church — but not police — including abuse committed by nuns.
At a press conference this week, experts from BishopAccountability, an online database of the abuse crisis, praised the legal developments and the awareness that the global summit brought to Church leaders who have long refused to believe victims. But they said more needed to be done.
“The Vatican and the Pope’s
main failure is in not implementing a strong, universal, zero
tolerance law,” said the group’s
co-founder, Anne Barrett Doyle. “If you are found guilty once of sexually abusing a child,
you are permanently removed
from public ministry and you
are closely monitored by the