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Pope Calls On Sex Abuse Prevention, Concrete Action To Respond To The Scandal

More than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia and 20 years after it hit the U.S., bishops and Catholic officials in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia still either deny that clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or downplay the problem.

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Members of clergy attend the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, Feb. 21, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. VOA

Pope Francis warned church leaders summoned Thursday to a landmark sex abuse prevention summit that the Catholic faithful are demanding more than just condemnation of the crimes of priests but concrete action to respond to the scandal.

Francis opened the four-day summit by telling the Catholic hierarchy that their own responsibility to deal effectively with priests who rape and molest children weighed on the proceedings.

“Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” and seize the opportunity to “transform this evil into a chance for understanding and purification,” Francis told the 190 leaders of bishops conferences and religious orders.

“The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established,” he warned.

Pope Francis delivers a speech during the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, Feb. 21, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video.
Pope Francis delivers a speech during the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, Feb. 21, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. VOA

More than 30 years of scandal

More than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia and 20 years after it hit the U.S., bishops and Catholic officials in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia still either deny that clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or downplay the problem.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, called the summit after himself botching a well-known sex abuse cover-up case in Chile last year. Realizing he had erred, he has vowed to chart a new course and is bringing the rest of the church leadership along with him.

The summit is meant as a tutorial for church leaders to learn the importance of preventing sex abuse in their churches, tending to victims and investigating the crimes when they occur.​

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) President Tim Lennon from Tucson, Ariz., center, and SNAP members Esther Hatfield Miller from Los Angeles, left, and Carol Midboe from Austin, speak to the media in St. Peter's Square, Feb. 20, 2019.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) President Tim Lennon from Tucson, Ariz., center, and SNAP members Esther Hatfield Miller from Los Angeles, left, and Carol Midboe from Austin, speak to the media in St. Peter’s Square, Feb. 20, 2019.VOA

Survivors flock to Rome, seek justice

In the keynote speech, Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle choked up several times as he told the bishops that the wounds the scandal has caused among the faithful recalled the wounds of Christ on the cross. He demanded they longer run in fear or turn a blind eye to the harm caused by clergy sex abuse and their own inaction to halt the problem.

“Faith that would like to close its eyes to people’s suffering is just an illusion,” he said.

Abuse survivors have turned out in droves, coming to Rome to demand accountability and transparency from church leaders, saying the time of cover-ups is over.

Phil Saviano, who helped expose the U.S. abuse scandal by priests two decades ago, demanded that the Vatican release the names of abusers and their files.

“Do it to break the code of silence,” he told the organizing committee on the eve of the summit. “Do it out of respect for the victims of these men, and do it to help prevent these creeps from abusing any more children.”

Lowered expectations

The Vatican isn’t expecting any miracles or even a final document to come out of the summit, and the pope himself has tried to lower expectations.

But organizers say the meeting marks a turning point in the way the Catholic Church has dealt with the problem, with Francis’ own acknowledgment of his mistakes in handling the Chile abuse case a key point of departure.

“Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, yes even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution has injured our people,” Tagle said in his speech. The result, he said, had left a “deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve.”

Statue pulled down

Before the Vatican summit opened, activists in Poland pulled down a statue of a priest early Thursday after increasing allegations that he sexually abused minors. They said the stunt was to protest the failure of the Polish Catholic Church in resolving the problem of clergy sex abuse.

Video footage showed three men attaching a rope around the statue of the late Monsignor Henryk Jankowski in the northern city of Gdansk and pulling it to the ground in the dark. They then placed children’s underwear in one of the statue’s hands and a white lace church vestment worn by altar boys on the statue’s body.

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The private broadcaster TVN24 reported the three men were arrested.

Jankowski, who died in 2010, rose to prominence in the 1980s through his support for the pro-democracy Solidarity movement against Poland’s communist regime. World leaders including President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited his church in recognition of his anti-communist activity. (VOA)

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Pope Francis Urges Bishops to Boldly Shake Up Status Quo as they Chart Ways to Better Care for Amazon

On hand for the service were indigenous people from several tribes, some with their faces painted and wearing feathered headdresses

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Pope Francis, Bishops, Amazon
Indigenous peoples, some with their faces painted and wearing feathered headdresses, stand by Pope Francis as he celebrates an opening Mass for the Amazon synod, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Oct. 6, 2019. VOA

Pope Francis urged bishops on Sunday to boldly shake up the status quo as they chart ways to better care for the Amazon and its indigenous people amid threats from forest fires, development and what he called ideological “ashes of fear.”

Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda.

Francis celebrated an opening Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday with global attention newly focused on the forest fires that are devouring the Amazon, which scientists say is a crucial bulwark against global warming.

On hand for the service were indigenous people from several tribes, some with their faces painted and wearing feathered headdresses, as well as more than 180 South American cardinals, bishops and priests, who donned green vestments like the pope.

Pope Francis, Bishops, Amazon
Francis opened a three-week meeting on preserving the rainforest and ministering to its native people as he fended off attacks from conservatives who are opposed to his ecological agenda. Pixabay

They traveled to Rome from the region for three weeks of debate at a special synod, or meeting, that has become one of the most controversial of Francis’ papacy.

Among the most contentious proposals on the agenda is whether married elders could be ordained priests to address the chronic priest shortages in the region. Currently indigenous Catholics in remote parts of the Amazon can go months without seeing a priest or having a proper Mass.

Another proposal calls for the church to identify new “official ministries” for women, though organizers have made clear that priestly ordination is off the table.

Francis’ conservative critics, including a handful of cardinals, have called the proposals “heretical” and an invitation to a “pagan” religion that idolizes nature rather than God. They have mounted an opposition campaign, issuing petitions and holding conferences to raise their voices.

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Yet in his homily, Francis urged the Amazonian bishops to go boldly forward, urging they be “prudent” but not “timid” as they discern new ways to protect the environment and minister to the faithful. He drew a distinction between the “fire” of missionary zeal and fires that aim to carve out the rainforest for agricultural uses.

“The fire set by interests that destroy, like the fire that recently devastated Amazonia, is not the fire of the Gospel,” he said. “The fire of God is warmth that attracts and gathers into unity. It is fed by sharing, not by profits.”

He prayed that God’s “daring prudence” would inspire the bishops to bold action to protect the region.

“If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that ‘this is the way things have always been done,’ then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo,” he said.

Pope Francis, Bishops, Amazon
Francis celebrated an opening Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday with global attention newly focused on the forest fires that are devouring the Amazon. Pixabay

In many ways, Francis opened the synod last year, when he traveled into the Peruvian Amazon and demanded that corporations stop their relentless extraction of timber, gas and gold.  Meeting with native families in steamy Puerto Maldonado, Francis declared that the Amazon and its indigenous peoples are the “heart of the church” and demanded that governments recognize their rights to determine the region’s future.

The seeds of the Amazon synod, however, long predate that visit and even Francis’ landmark 2015 encyclical “Praise Be,” in which he denounced the profit-at-all-cost business interests destroying the rainforest.

The pope, when he was the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, drafted the final document of the 2007 meeting of South American bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, which identified the Amazon and its indigenous peoples as threatened by global economic interests and deserving of the church’s utmost attention.

Scientists say the vast rainforest’s lush vegetation absorbs heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The moisture given off by its trees also affects rainfall patterns and climate across South America and beyond.

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While the numbers of fires burning in the Amazon declined sharply last month, parts of the rainforest burned at a pace in July and August unseen since 2010. That fueled global worries about climate change, put the Amazon fires on the agenda of the Group of Seven summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and directed environmental outrage at the pro-development stance of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he wants to promote economic development in the Amazon and regularize small-scale illegal mining. He has also strongly criticized foreign countries for meddling with what he sees is a domestic Brazilian matter. (VOA)