Vatican lowers expectations ahead of February’s sex abuse summit

Pope Francis meets with the leadership of the Chilean bishops' conference at the Vatican on Jan. 14 to talk about the sex abuse crisis affecting the church in Chile. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)Pope Francis meets with the leadership of the Chilean bishops' conference at the Vatican on Jan. 14 to talk about the sex abuse crisis affecting the church in Chile. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The Vatican has spelled out the purpose and goals of the summit on the protection of minors, to be held Feb. 21 to 24, which will bring together the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the Catholic world, senior officials of the Roman Curia, representatives of the international unions of major religious superiors (both men and women) and a number of survivors of abuse. It also sought to lower expectations for that event.

“The goal is that all of the bishops clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors,” Alessandro Gisotti, the interim director of the Holy See press office, told journalists at a press briefing at the Vatican today.

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He said, “It is fundamental for the Holy Father that when the bishops who will come to Rome have returned to their countries and their dioceses that they understand the laws to be applied and that they take the necessary steps to prevent abuse, to care for the victims and to make sure that no case is covered up or buried.”

He told reporters, “Pope Francis knows that a global problem can only be resolved with a global response.”

Reading from a prepared text, Mr. Gisotti explained that the pope wants the February summit “to be an assembly of pastors, not an academic conference—a meeting characterized by prayer and discernment, a catechetical and working gathering.”

“Pope Francis knows that a global problem can only be resolved with a global response.”

In a separate communique today, reporting on the meeting on Jan. 10 of the preparatory committee for the February event, the Vatican said the summit includes “plenary sessions, working groups, moments of common prayer with listening to testimonies [from survivors], a penitential liturgy and a concluding Eucharistic celebration.”

It said Pope Francis “has assured his presence at the entire meeting,” adding that the pope has asked Federico Lombardi, S.J., the former director of the Holy See press office, “to moderate the plenary sessions.”

The summit is going to be a major media event, perhaps the biggest one since the 2013 conclave, and has given rise to high expectations. Mr. Gisotti sought to temper these. “It is important to emphasize that the church is not at the beginning of the fight against abuse,” he said. The summit “is a stage along the painful journey that the church has unceasingly and decisively undertaken for over 15 years,” he explained.

His remarks echoed the observations of Andrea Tornielli, the new editorial director for the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, in an editorial on Jan. 10. “There are excessive media expectations in view of the upcoming meeting called by Pope Francis on the subject of protecting minors and vulnerable adults, as if it were an event halfway between a council and a conclave,” Mr. Tornielli wrote. “These expectations risk overshadowing the ecclesial significance of a meeting among Pastors, among Presidents of Episcopal Conferences of the whole world who, together with the Successor of Peter, will reflect on the theme of abuse,” he added.

Mr. Tornielli said: “What needs to be emphasized, above all, is the universality that is typical of the Catholic Church and that reverberates in the meeting…. The presence of bishops from all over the world, called together for the first time to address this painful plague which has been, and is, a source of enormous suffering for victims and of counter-witness to the Gospel, will help to increase everyone’s awareness of the seriousness of the crisis.”

He added, “The phenomenon of the abuse of minors, the horrific experiences of the victims, the procedures to be applied in the face of accusations and the indications to ensure a safe environment for children and young people, will thus be examined from a perspective that is not solely European or American.”

Mr.Tornielli said that the purpose of the meeting is “to ensure that everyone taking part in it can return to their own country being absolutely clear about what must (and must not) be done with regard to addressing these cases. Namely, what steps must be taken to protect the victims, with respect for the truth and the people involved, in order to ensure that no more cases are stonewalled or covered up.

“The rules on how to respond have been established and strengthened by the will of recent popes,” he wrote, but “norms, laws, codes and procedures that are increasingly perfected and precise are not enough; they can never be enough if the mentality and the hearts of those who are called to apply them do not change.”

For this reason, he said, Pope Francis “continues to point out the path of conversion.”

He said it was important that each of the summit’s participants “listen to the testimonies of surviving victims” and follow the example of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in meeting victims, listening to them weeping with them and sharing their suffering.

He recalled that Pope Francis, in his address to the diplomatic corps, said the February meeting will serve as an attempt “to make past mistakes opportunities for eliminating” the scourge of abuse, “not only from the body of the church but also from that of society.”

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Lisa M
1 month ago

Pope Francis really seems to want to fix this problem. While we cannot prevent all predators, we can demand, that when our bishops get wind of a possible issue in their archdiocese, they act immediately. This is precisely what the problem is, because at the end of the day, many closed their eyes and rolled over. We have been forgiving of those from decades earlier, thinking perhaps we didn't have real knowledge of the damage the victims suffered. There is no excuse these days whatsoever. To the bishops who were given information, and chose instead to roll over, I hope they are all exposed, for they are worse than the perpetrators!

arthur mccaffrey
1 month ago

But what if some of those who rolled over are at the February conference? This latest spin on the expectations for this mega-meeting in February sounds like the big Mafia Don is warning his local turf managers how he wants them to behave when they go back to manage their local franchises, "Child abuse is bad for business, youse guys, so wise up and keep your boys in order." Sounds like Godfather III.

arthur mccaffrey
1 month ago

But what if some of those who rolled over are at the February conference? This latest spin on the expectations for this mega-meeting in February sounds like the big Mafia Don is warning his local turf managers how he wants them to behave when they go back to manage their local franchises, "Child abuse is bad for business, youse guys, so wise up and keep your boys in order." Sounds like Godfather III.

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

Nothing will come of this meeting. It's another of Pope Francis' illusions of progress. He could do one thing that would make a difference ... make it mandatory for all Catholic priests/bishops/cardinals the world over to report sex abuse to the civil auuthorities. He won't do that. Much less will he take action that would actually lessen sex abuse rather than just respond to it ... end mandatory celibacy and allow women to be priests. He is an incredible disappointment as pope.

Lisa M
1 month ago

Today, most of the abuse is reported. The real problem, as I see it, is when they are given information that there might be a problem, something is amiss, and they DO NOTHING, and later, they carefully say they acted when they received 'credible evidence'. That is the period of time where the majority of the victims are abused, because while they had no concrete proof, they didn't so much as put ANY safety measures in place to ensure the 'questionable actions" that were brought to their attention could not possibly occur. For example, a priest who has had some complaint about inappropriate behaviour (not sexual but needy) is left living alone, and befriending boys, hanging out with them alone. They might not have had concrete proof, but someone saw something that was enough to make them feel compelled to bring it to their attention, and because they didn't have proof, they completely ignored it? The vast majority of victims are abused under these circumstances, where the archdiocese has already had a report of 'something is off'. I know if someone told me one of my brothers seems too close to a boy, I wouldn't believe it, and on one level I would think people have a right to not fit the mold, and not be accused of being an abuser, BUT, I would still have the radar on, and keep an eye on him from that moment forward. It would be my obligation to do so. To roll over and ignore it is unthinkable and inexcusable.

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
1 month ago

Right on. Reading this article is like hearing Trump's plan to end the immigration crisis -- lots of words, nothing that really means anything.

arthur mccaffrey
1 month ago

Right on Mary Gail!

James M.
1 month ago

If the bishops, of all people on Earth, did not know that paedophilia and sodomy are sins, and very grave sins, they have no business being deacons, let alone bishops.

I expect no real change, These men have no credibility, The Church needs Christians as pastors. Not bureaucrats, careerists, yes-men, theology graduates and professors - Christians. The seriousness with which the CC takes this evil and its rotten fruits, is indicated by the number of bishops and cardinals who have resigned. Judas Iscariot at least had the decency to be ashamed of betraying Christ. But for them, it’s business as usual :(

What the Church could do with, is a revived, modified, Universal Inquisition, with jurisdiction over all clergy and all religious, & with authority to impose any punishment necessary, with the possible exception of the death penalty.

Dr Robert Dyson
1 month ago

“It is fundamental for the Holy Father that when the bishops who will come to Rome have returned to their countries and their dioceses that they understand the laws to be applied and that they take the necessary steps to prevent abuse, to care for the victims and to make sure that no case is covered up or buried.”

Good heavens! Why is it necessary to have a high profile conference (a) to convey a trite message that could have been conveyd by email, and (b) - much, much more to the point - should not need to be conveyed at all? Do the bishops of the Catholic Church REALLY need to be told that the abuse of children is wrong and that they should take steps to prevent it? If they don't, and if the priests of their dioceses don't already KNOW that they should not interfere with children, then there is something more radically wrong with the Church than one more Vatican talking shop could possibly put right.

"It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he be cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones" (Luke 17:2).

Lisa M
1 month ago

It is neither the Church, nor the Pope who is to blame here. Certainly women priests and/or ending celibacy will not change abuse, but having women more active in decision making may help. It all depends on the women who are chosen. The reality is every single archdiocese needs to be scrutinized, and if mishandling is found, OUT THEY GO. Far more time needs to be spent in pastoral rolls, and more needs to be done to ensure the title of bishop is NOT seen as a royal title or a CEO that is to be pursued and treasured. I can think of no other job, where you continue to lose 'sales', yet get promoted. The time has come now, that our leaders in the Church step up. Our Holy Father is most certainly letting it be known....and I am forever thankful he is leading us in these most troubling times within our church.

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
1 month ago

The Pope is a mealy-mouthed nothing burger when it comes to sexual abuse.

Bill Mazzella
1 month ago

While, despite the history of abuses in the church, somehow many good people managed to thrive. The sacralization of the priesthood is the principal reason this abuse was possible and continued in the cover-up. We have to get away from the presumption that the priest is not a sinful person like the rest of us who needs to earn respect not get it by the very nature of his position. "By their fruits you shall know them," Jesus says. This automatic deference is the problem. It is the church as monarchy rather than service. St Paul had to work to gain credence. Let the clergy earn by their deeds also. Stop calling them father and the clergy should not allow it either!

Michael Myers
1 month ago

The Vatican should also lower their expectations for continued attendance and financial support as well as tolerance of this hideous behavior.

Peter Schwimer
1 month ago

It seems that there a way to avoid the whole issue. Victims should report abuse to civil authorities. The Church should not be in the business of investigating it's own. Civil authorities are better equipped to do that

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
1 month ago

This would be fall-on-the-floor laughingly hilarious if it were not so infuriating and deeply sad. How many meetings have there been? How many prayers? How many masses? (In 2002 at Dallas, they could stay up all night and admire the tabernacle to reflect on -- what? -- how pissed off they were that they had to show some humility?) A papal commission that went nowhere and from which a number of survivors resigned because it went no where? Code here is there will be no experts, no law enforcement personnel from various countries, no plaintiff lawyers -- no one who actually knows what has and still goes on and how really to fix it. More public relations from a bunch of old, arrogant princes who really do not care about the children of their realms but care deeply about being held to account. And they wonder why people are leaving in droves.

Gary Z
1 month ago

I wonder if the issue of why Jeff Monforton of Steubenville is going to be allowed to continue to withhold information from the prosecutor of Guernsey county that he claims to have provided to the congregation for the doctrine of the faith (CDF) that CDF claims establishes the credibility of accuser Batya Rocker. Is the Pope going to demand that Dan Dinardo of Galveston act on the letter sent to him on this matter. Someone is not as "transparent" as he claims to be.

Stephen de Weger
1 month ago

"Vatican lowers expectations". Of course it does. It's not hard to believe that the bottom line is that they still want to cover up the broader reality of the myth of celibacy. Step 1, keep it about child sexual abuse which is always wrong - do not include abuse of adults or general clergy sexual activity, that would lead to the diminishment of legitimacy. Ride out the storm, look as though you are doing something but avoid the BIG question of clergy non-adherence to celibacy. Sipe showed how this was linked to all clergy sexual abuse of anyone. Approach this with inertia first: tick ...didn't work ... now try sentimentality ... Hmm that might work. (It won't).

JOHN GRONDELSKI
1 month ago

Vatican lowers expectations? Nobody has any great expectations in the first place.

Ellen B
1 month ago

They also need to come clean about prior abuse & prior cover ups. It's gone on for too many years for a pass to be acceptable.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
1 month ago

Nothing will, again, come of this meeting. The Pope is trying to cover his abysmal record: McCarrick, O'Connor-Murphy, Maradiaga, the Chilean bishop, Julio Grassi, and how many more?! OH, MY GOSH: TODAY WE LEARNED ABOUT ANOTHER ONE THE POPE HAS PROTECTED AND PROMOTED - Bishop GUSTAVO OSCAR ZANCHETTA, FORMERLY OF ORAN, ARGENTINA, AND NOW SUSPENDED FROM THE ADMINISTRATION THAT MANAGES THE HOLY SEE'S ASSETS. (AP) HOW MANY MORE??? The bishops want to cover their episcopal bottoms and aren't really interested in an in-depth, open, frank, and substantive discussion resulting in policies, which they won't carry out. For example, in 2002 in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles an accusation meant immediate removal from active ministry. We had a priest accused in 2002 and during the investigation he was made a bishop. Get serious folks because the Pope and bishops are not serious. They are not going to do what needs to be done. Put this whole mess into the hands of retired law enforcement personnel and retired jurists with expertise in these matters.

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