Pope Francis attends a penitential liturgy at the Vatican, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. The pontiff is hosting a four-day summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse, a high-stakes meeting designed to impress on Catholic bishops around the world that the problem is global and that there are consequences if they cover it up (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo Via AP)

Pope vows to end abuse coverups but victims disappointed

The Vatican is holding the first-ever global Catholic summit of its kind

Pope Francis closed out his extraordinary summit on preventing clergy sex abuse by vowing Sunday to confront abusers with “the wrath of God” felt by the faithful, end the coverups by their superiors and prioritize the victims of this “brazen, aggressive and destructive evil.”

But his failure to offer a concrete action plan to hold bishops accountable when they failed to protect their flocks from predators disappointed survivors, who had expected more from the first-ever global Catholic summit of its kind.

Francis delivered his remarks at the end of Mass before 190 Catholic bishops and religious superiors who were summoned to Rome after more abuse scandals sparked a credibility crisis in the Catholic hierarchy and in Francis’ own leadership.

“Brothers and sisters, today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil,” the pope said.

In a sign of new measures being taken, the Vatican announced that it would soon issue a new law creating a child protection policy for Vatican City State that covers the Holy See bureaucracy.

The Associated Press reported last year that the headquarters of the Catholic Church had no such policy, even though it insisted in 2011 that local churches have one and told the United Nations five years ago that a policy for Vatican City was in the works.

“It’s not like there is an enormous diffusion of these crimes inside Vatican City State or the Curia,” summit moderator the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. “But since we insist that we need laws and rigorous procedure (elsewhere), they should also exist where we are and in our institutions, starting with the Vatican City State.”

In his final remarks to the summit, Francis 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 contextualize 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 Catholic Church, “for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility.”

Francis summoned the bishops from around the world to the four-day meeting to impress upon them that clergy sex abuse and coverups aren’t just a problem in some countries but a global problem that threatens the very mission of the Catholic Church.

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 coverup 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.

“If in the Church there should emerge even a single case of abuse – which already in itself represents an atrocity – that case will be faced with the utmost seriousness,” he said. “Indeed, in people’s justified anger, the church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons.”

But survivors who came to Rome expecting solid, concrete action were disappointed.

“I have been waiting for seven years for all of this to change,” Italian survivor Alessandro Battaglia said. “There are people who have been waiting for 30 years that all this will change. Why don’t they start with something concrete like removing the bishops who cover up?”

U.S. survivor Peter Isely, of the victim advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse, said the pope didn’t go far enough.

“There is nothing in his remarks about releasing documents that demonstrate the truth of how they are and have been covering up child sex crimes,” he said. “So what that is, is secrecy. So, if he is against secrecy about coverups, on Monday morning, we would be seeing those archives and criminal evidence released.”

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

Francis did propose one concrete step going forward, saying he wants to change church law governing child pornography. Currently the church only considers it a “grave delict” — or a crime handled by the Vatican office that processes sex abuse cases — if the child in question is under age 14. Francis wants to raise the age to 18 to cover all minors.

It wasn’t clear if the change was inspired by a recent case involving an Argentine bishop close to Francis.

The AP has reported that the Vatican knew as early as 2015 about Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta’s inappropriate behaviour with seminarians. Yet he was allowed to stay on as bishop of the northern Argentine diocese of Oran on until 2017, when he resigned suddenly, only to be given a top job at the Vatican by Francis, his confessor.

New diocesan documents published by the Tribune of Salta newspaper show that the original 2015 complaint reported that Zanchetta had gay porn on his cellphone involving “young people” having sex, as well as naked images of Zanchetta masturbating that he sent to others. The age of the “young people” isn’t clear.

___

Trisha Thomas contributed to this report.

___

Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Okanagan distillery hands out thousands of sanitizer bottles, needs help in COVID-19 fight

Okanagan Springs is donating hand sanitizer to help fill COVID-induced shortages

WATCH: Vernon neighbourhood holds COVID-19 cookware concert for solidarity

Residents came outside to clang pots and pans in a show of solidarity amid the coronavirus pandemic

‘Corona Busters’: Vernon man drives vintage ambulance in appreciation of health-care workers

Rob Newport says he aims to make people smile during the COVID-19 pandemic with Ghostbusters-themed ride

Interior Health officials outline pandemic response in virtual town hall

Kelowna-Lake County MLA Norm Letnick moderates digital discussion, Q&A with Interior Health leadership

Cookie monsters rejoice as B.C. stores sell Girl Guide sweets

With door-to-door sales cancelled, a few big chains have stepped up to distribute

B.C. COVID-19 cases rise 92 to 884, one more death, 81 in care

Outbreak action underway in 12 long-term care homes

B.C. veterinarians want to smooth the fur of COVID-19-worried pet owners

Vets expect to continue giving your fur buddies the help they need while social distancing

B.C. VIEWS: Small businesses need our help

Just as integral in neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Surrey as they are in Prince George or Kelowna

‘Tremendous’ response from blood donors has supply keeping pace with demand

About 400,000 of Canada’s 37 million residents give blood on a regular basis

Morning world update: Cases surge past 600,000; positive news in Germany

Spain suffers its deadliest day as Germany considers April 20 to possibly loosen restrictions

VIDEO: Penguins roam empty halls of Vancouver Aquarium

COVID-19 has forced the Vancouver Aquarium to close access to guests – leaving room for its residents

67 more B.C. COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Vancouver region

Positive tests found in Surrey, Langley long-term care facilities

Most Read