For Many Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, Vatican Summit Ends of Disappointment

Published on March 7, 2019 by Laurie Villanueva

Survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy are expressing their disappointment, after a much-hyped Vatican Summit concluded last month without much in the way of concrete action.

“Frankly, we’ve had enough of talk. We want action. We want true accountability,” Ryan O’Conner said in an interview that aired on NPR last week.

The 46-year-old Pennsylvania man is still a practicing Catholic, even though he was molested by a Pittsburgh priest at the age of 9.

Pope Issued No Edicts to Prevent Clergy Sexual Abuse

Survivors who spoke during the unprecedented 4-day summit were highly-critical of bishops and other Catholic leaders whose efforts to silence victims allowed clergy sexual abuse against children to go unchecked for decades.

According to The New York Times, Pope Francis did call for “for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors” during his closing remarks, and insisted that Church leaders must protect children “from ravenous wolves.”

But Francis dashed the hopes of many survivors when he failed to use his absolute authority as Pope to declare a churchwide law dismissing abusive priests and the bishops who cover for them. Rather than issue edicts aimed at preventing clergy sexual abuse, Francis merely used the summit to persuade often-skeptical bishops to take strong action against offenders and hold themselves accountable for protecting parishioners in their dioceses.

“Pope Francis’ talk today was a stunning letdown, a catastrophic misreading of the grief and outrage of the faithful,” Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org told the Times. “As the world’s Catholics cry out for concrete change, the pope instead provides tepid promises, all of which we’ve heard before.”

New York Extends Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations

For his part O’Conner told NPR that he hoped the Church would support extending state statutes of limitations for sexual abuse, as it can take traumatize victims to report abusive clergy.

“The perception of the Church, I believe, will change greatly if they allow us to stand in front of our perpetrators and truly, truly take our lives back,” he said.

New York recently passed the Child Victims Act, which gives child sexual abuse survivors more time to seek justice against perpetrators, as well as the public and private institutions that enabled their abuse, by:

  • Extending 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.
  • Allowing survivors to file civil claims against abusers and institutions until they turn 55.
  • Opening a one-year, one-time-only window to allow all survivors to file civil lawsuits, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

Fearing a wave of costly clergy sexual abuse lawsuits, Roman Catholic Dioceses throughout the state fought passage of the New York Child Victims Act for more than a decade. The tide only turned after a recent investigations revealed that Bishops and other Church authorities throughout Pennsylvania and elsewhere had protected hundreds of abusive priests for decades.

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