VATICAN CITY (AP) — Survivors of clergy sex abuse on Wednesday demanded transparency, zero tolerance for abuse and accountability for religious superiors who cover up for rapists, setting a confrontational tone on the eve of Pope Francis’ high-stakes abuse prevention summit.
The victims also demanded to meet with Francis himself, but had to settle instead for a two-hour round-table with members of the organizing committee for the four-day summit, which starts Thursday.
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.
Phil Saviano, an American who played a crucial role in exposing clergy abuse in the United States decades ago, said he told the summit organizers to release the names of abusive priests around the world along with their case files.
“Do it to launch a new era of transparency,” Saviano said he told the committee. “Do it to break the code of silence. Do it out of respect for the victims of these men, and do it to help prevent these creeps from abusing any more children.”
More than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia and 20 years after it hit the U.S., bishops and superiors in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia either deny clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or downplay the problem.
Francis, the first Latin American pope, has made many of the same mistakes. As archbishop in Buenos Aires, he went out of his way to defend a famous street priest who was later convicted of abuse. He also took a handful of measures early on in his papacy that undermined progress the Vatican had made in taking a hard line against rapists.
He finally did an about-face after botching a well-known sex abuse cover-up case in Chile last year. Realizing he had erred, he has vowed to chart a new course and is bringing the rest of the church leadership along with him.
Some 190 leaders of bishops’ conferences, religious orders and Vatican offices are gathering for four days of lectures and workshops on preventing sex abuse in their churches, tending to victims and investigating the crimes when they occur.
“I think that the time for words is long, long past,” said Archbishop Mark Benedict Coleridge, of Brisbane, Australia, who will deliver the homily at the summit’s final Mass on Sunday.
“We are dealing with a global emergency, and I don’t think the language is too strong,” he said. “A global emergency that requires a global response.”
The Vatican isn’t expecting any miracles, and the pope himself has called for expectations to be “deflated.” But organizers say the meeting marks a turning point in the way the Catholic Church has dealt with the problem, with Francis’ own acknowledgment of his mistakes in handling the Chile abuse case a key point of departure.
“I have been impressed by the humility of the Holy Father,” said Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican sex crimes investigator who helped set Francis straight on Chile. “He’s ready to say, ‘I got that wrong. We’re not going to do it again. We’re going to do it right.’”
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) President Tim Lennon from Tucson, Ariz., center, and SNAP members Esther Hatfield Miller from Los Angeles, Calif., left, and Carol Midboe from Austin, pose for pictures during interviews with the media in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican during Pope Francis' general audience, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Organizers of Pope Francis' summit on preventing clergy sex abuse met with a dozen survivor-activists who have come to Rome to protest the Catholic Church's response to date and demand an end to decades of cover-up by church leaders. (AP Photo/Luigi Navarra)
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) President Tim Lennon from Tucson, AZ, center, and SNAP members Esther Hatfield Miller from Los Angeles, CA, left, and Carol Midboe from Austin, TX, hold pictures as they pose for pictures during interviews with the media in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican during Pope Francis' general audience, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Organizers of Pope Francis' summit on preventing clergy sex abuse will meet this week with a dozen survivor-activists who have come to Rome to protest the Catholic Church's response to date and demand an end to decades of cover-up by church leaders. (AP Photo/Luigi Navarra)
Sex abuse survivors, Denise Buchanan, left, and Peter Isely, both founding members of the ECA (Ending Clergy Abuse) make their way through a crowd of journalists on the occasion of their meeting with organizers of the summit on preventing sexual abuse at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. A dozen survivors of clergy sexual abuse met with organizers of Pope Francis' landmark summit on preventing abuse and protecting children. Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who was asked by the Vatican to invite survivors to the meeting, told reporters Wednesday that Francis would not be attending, as had been rumored. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)