Vatican Opens Summit to Address Growing Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal

Published on February 22, 2019 by Laurie Villanueva

For the first time in its history, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church gathered to address the growing clergy sex abuse crisis that has plagued the faith for decades.

Clergy Sex Abuse Victim: “I Feel I Have a Life Destroyed”

“In the face of this scourge of sexual abuse perpetrated by men of the church to the detriment of minors, I thought I would summon you, so that all together we may lend an ear and listen to the Holy Spirit … and to the cry of the small ones who are asking for justice,” Pope Francis told nearly 200 Catholic officials gathered in Vatican City on the summit’s first day.

“The holy people of God are looking at us and expect from us not simple condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to put in place, he continued. “We need to be concrete.”

The assembly also heard from five anonymous clergy sex abuse survivors, including an African woman who was repeatedly raped by her priest, starting when she was just 15-years old.

“This lasted for 13 years,” the woman said. “I got pregnant three times and he made me have an abortion three times, quite simply because he did not want to use condoms or contraceptives.”

“I feel I have a life destroyed,” she added.

“You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed, in some cases, into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith,” a Chilean survivor said in reference to Church authorities’ well-documented attempts to discredit clergy sexual abuse victims and protect predatory priests.

Pope Francis’s Proposals Disappoint Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors

During his remarks, Pope Francis offered a list of proposals to prevent clergy sexual abuse within the Church, including:

  • Establishing protocols for handling accusations against bishops.
  • Having candidates for priesthood undergo psychological evaluations.
  • Formulating mandatory codes of conduct for clerics and volunteers outlining “appropriate boundaries in personal relationships.”
  • Establishing a group with a “certain autonomy” from the church easily accessible to victims who want to report a crime.
  • Raising the minimum age for marriage to 16 years old. Although Canon Law sets a minimum age of 16 for boys, the Church allows girls to enter into marriage at 14.

Unfortunately, Francis disappointed survivors and their advocates when he proposed that dioceses and Catholic organizations only publish lists of accused clergy members following a preliminary investigation and “definitive” condemnation.

“This seems to say that if a priest or a nun or deacon gets accused they don’t tell the parish until the accusation is ‘proven,'” Tim Lennon, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told CNN.

“Well, who proves this? The police or the bishops? We’ve seen for 35 years that bishops often cover up, so no one trusts that they are going to be good arbiters of guilt and innocence,” he continued.

New York Survivors Have More Time to File Clergy Sex Abuse Lawsuits

The opening of the Vatican summit comes just days after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act, which:

  • Extends the state’s statute of limitations to allow for criminal charges against sexual abusers of children until their victims turn 28 for felony cases, up from the current 23.
  • Allows survivors to file child civil claims against perpetrators, as well as the public and private institutions that enabled their abuse, until they turn 55.
  • Opens a one-year, one-time-only window to allow all survivors to file civil lawsuits, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

The passage of the New York Child Victims Act followed a 12-year-battle marked by fierce opposition from the Catholic Church, which feared a wave of costly clergy sexual abuse lawsuits could force some dioceses into bankruptcy.

“This bill brings justice to people who were abused, and rights the wrongs that went unacknowledged and unpunished for too long,” Cuomo said during the February 14th signing ceremony. “By signing this bill, we are saying nobody is above the law, that the cloak of authority is not impenetrable, and that if you violate the law, we will find out and you will be punished and justice will be done.”

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