Summit on clergy sex abuse light on concrete action


Giuseppe Lami | Pool Photo Via AP

Pope Francis and some of the world’s most influential leaders in the church gathered at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 for an unprecedented summit on counteracting clerical sexual abuse of minors.

Pope Francis convened the historic summit to further address the same issue that has dampened the church’s reputation for decades.

The church has been facing immense pressure because of the lack of concrete solutions it has put into place to address the problem, as well as the slow pace of reforms.

Judy Jones, the Midwest regional leader at Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said victims are not pleased with the actions that took place at the summit.

“Victims are very disappointed with Pope Francis and the papal summit; it ended with just more words and not decisive actions,” she said.

At the summit, the pope encouraged bishops to take stern action against abusive clergy members and to embrace accountability in protecting faithful Catholics in their respective dioceses.

But Jones believes that abuse should be immediately reported to law enforcement instead of being dealt with internally by the church.

“SNAP calls for the pope to compel bishops around the world to turn their files over to law enforcement for independent investigations into their handling of clergy sex abuse cases,” she said.

While victims and their advocates generally remained dissatisfied with the outcome of the event, some say momentous strides were made last weekend in Vatican City. William Cavanaugh, a professor of Catholic studies at DePaul, said the summit proved that the problem of clergy sex abuse needs to be dealt with on a global stage.

“There are parts of the world where people in the church are denying that it is a problem. The summit showed that this is something that needs to be dealt with in a worldwide manner,” he said.

While abusive priests are sometimes punished within the church, Cavanaugh believes that bishops, who oversee priests, also need to be disciplined for covering up priests’ actions.

“It needs to happen in a more regular way; there needs to be a procedure for disciplining and removing bishops,” he said.

Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, coordinator of the Catholic Educational Leadership Program at DePaul, said she believes reforms are coming.

“The insidious and blatant evil of both the abuse and its cover up must be addressed in action,” she said. “As a part of that mandate, I believe the United States bishops will soon refine something very concrete, including addressing the betrayal of the cover-ups and a culture of clerical entitlement.”

Although there is still no concrete policy set in stone, perhaps the biggest takeaway of the summit is that the highest-ranking officials in the church seem ready to confess their mistakes.

“The summit was the modern equivalent of a sinner kneeling on the steps of the Cathedral,” said McCaughey. “This acknowledgement of sin, however, is not enough — the takeaway is in the action for justice, healing, and the dismantling of any system or attitude which allowed this cancer.”