Pope Francis prays at the opening of a sex abuse prevention summit, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The gathering of church leaders from around the globe is taking place amid intense scrutiny of the Catholic Church’s record after new allegations of abuse and cover-up last year sparked a credibility crisis for the hierarchy. (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)

Pope’s sex abuse summit: What it did and didn’t do

No sweeping new law was announced to punish bishops who cover up abuse

Pope Francis’ summit on preventing sexual abuse was never going to meet the expectations placed on it by victims groups, the media and ordinary Catholics outraged over a scandal that has harmed so many and compromised the church’s moral authority so much.

Indeed, no sweeping new law was announced to punish bishops who cover up abuse. No files were released or global reporting requirement endorsed requiring priestly rapists to be reported to police. In his final speech to the summit Sunday, Pope Francis even fell back on the hierarchy’s frequent complaint of unfair press coverage.

But something has changed.

By inviting the leaders of Catholic bishops conferences and religious orders from around the world to a four-day tutorial on preventing sex abuse, Francis has made clear that they all are responsible for protecting the children in their care and must punish the priests who might violate them, or risk punishment themselves.

“In people’s justified anger, the church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons,” the pontiff said.

And yet as strong as his words were, it was actually the handful of women invited to address the summit who drove the message home most forcefully. That too speaks volumes about the future of an institution where women are officially barred from the hierarchy’s ranks but are increasingly raising their voices and walking out when they aren’t heard.

Nigerian Sister Veronica Openibo, superior of her religious order, shamed the men in the room for their decades of silence over the “atrocities” committed by their priests and warned them that they would be judged for their inaction going forward.

“This storm will not pass by,” she said.

Valentina Alazraki, the longtime Vatican correspondent for Mexico’s Televisa, challenged the men in power to decide whether they are on the side of the victims, or the priests who raped them.

“We have decided which side to be on,” Alazraki told the summit, warning that unless the hierarchy too sides with victims, “journalists, who seek the common good, will be your worst enemies.”

Francis was so impressed by the address of Linda Ghisoni, a canon lawyer and under-secretary in the Vatican’s laity office, that he delivered an impromptu ode to women at the end of her speech.

And by all indications, the searing testimony of a woman who as a child endured five years of rape at the hands of a priest — and a lifetime of trauma, eating disorders, depression and suicide attempts — brought the 190 bishops and religious superiors to a stunned, shameful silence.

She told them that she had wanted to tell them something about her childhood, but couldn’t because since she was 11 years old “I, who loved coloring books and doing somersaults on the grass, have not existed.”

“Instead, engraved in my eyes, ears, nose, body and soul, are all the times he immobilized me, the child, with superhuman strength.”

The Rev. Hans Zollner, one of the conference organizers, said her tearful testimony stopped the bishops cold.

“This has really reached the heart level,” he said. “And if you get to that level, you cannot be as you were before.”

And some concrete steps were announced at the summit’s end that will change things as they were before.

For starters, the Vatican in the coming days is expected to issue a new child protection policy for the Vatican City State. Despite having instructed all the world’s bishops’ conferences to draft such a policy in 2011, the headquarters of the global Catholic Church still has none.

The Vatican will soon issue a step-by-step guidebook for bishops around the world explaining how to investigate and prosecute abuse cases. Task forces at the regional or continental level will be established to give them expert help, since many dioceses in poorer countries simply don’t have the legal resources on hand.

READ MORE: B.C. woman shares story of abuse with church officials ahead of Vatican summit

READ MORE: Searing testimony heard at Vatican sex abuse summit

All indications are that the Vatican will be re-evaluating the use of “pontifical secret” in abuse cases, so that victims can actually learn the outcomes of their cases.

New “clarifications” are expected to be issued about implementing a 2016 law on holding bishops and religious superiors accountable when they cover up abuse cases.

And individual bishops conferences, such as in the U.S., are plowing ahead to articulate clear accountability proposals for their leadership.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s longtime sex crimes prosecutor, told reporters at the summit’s end that his main takeaway after four days was that there is now a recognition within the church that “abuse of minors is an egregious crime, but so too is coverup.”

And with that, he said, “There is no going back.”

___

Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Crews respond to near drowning at Thetis Lake

Man taken to hospital after calls come in of drowning in progress

PHOTOS: Thousands raised for cancer at second annual Gala for Hope

Victoria Fire Department’s fundraiser a success ahead of Ride to Conquer Cancer

Vet services for Victoria’s pets of the homeless cancelled for first time in a decade

Vets for Pets faces a volunteer shortage that’s forced the group to cancel its recent service

Wooldog among mysteries uncovered with powerful UVic microscope

Finding ‘Mutton,’ a dog lost in a Smithsonian drawer for 150 years

Optometrist pedals through depression, leads others for the cause

Ride Don’t Hide bike rides start, end at Windsor Park

Victoria Weekender: What’s happening this weekend, June 15-16

Car Free YYJ, a barber battle and an Outdoor Discovery Day

B.C. VIEWS: When farmland protection doesn’t protect farmers

Secondary residences aren’t mansions, families tell Lana Popham

Bombers down B.C. Lions 33-23 in season opener

Former Lion Andrew Harris leads Winnipeg with 148 rushing yards

Homalco tour gives glimpse into area’s ‘People, Land, Water’

First Nation business mixes cultural components with wildlife excursions

Northern B.C. family remembers murdered Indigenous woman with memorial walk

Still no closure for Ramona Wilson’s family 25 years later

Monkey spotted on late-night jaunt in Campbell River

Conservation officers also apparently looking for cougar in the area

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

Most Read