Intense Language Persuades Few at Vatican Sex Abuse Conference
In a closing speech after mass at the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Francis gave his final remarks at a four-day sex abuse meeting in a speech marked by its strong language. In condemnation of child sex abusers in the Roman Catholic Church, Francis compared sex abuse crimes to “sacrificing human beings — frequently children — in pagan rites.”
The summit brought together 190 bishops from around the world, and much of the time was spent having bishops listen to the reports of abuse survivors. The effort seemed to be aimed at educating bishops on dealing with — rather than covering up — cases of abuse by priests. Pope Francis announced that the Vatican was in the process of creating a guidebook for bishops so that, in dealing with cases of child sex abuse by clergy, they could “clearly understand their duties and tasks.”
But even after the meeting, many victims and their advocates accused Francis of being all talk and no action. There were high hopes prior to the summit that Francis, with his absolute legislative authority in the Church, would institute a worldwide edict to dismiss abusive priests and the bishops who protect them.
“Pope Francis’ talk today was a stunning letdown, a catastrophic misreading of the grief and outrage of the faithful,” asserted Anne Barrett Doyle, a leader of BishopAccountability.org. “As the world’s Catholics cry out for concrete change, the pope instead provides tepid promises, all of which we’ve heard before.”
As proof of the Church’s unsuccessful procedures for dealing with clerical child sex abuse, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx stated on Saturday that "files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created."
Critics say the conference also failed to address the issue of “zero tolerance,” despite advocates worldwide demanding that the Church issue a “one-strike” policy. These groups argue for the defrocking of any priests convicted of abuse and any bishops that stood by in the process.
Though the conference was an important stepping stone in the Church’s fight against child sex abuse by priests, the meeting concluded with no concrete plans for addressing the problem. Pope Francis and bishops should expect clerical abuse victims and their advocates to continue to demand more solid action.