ROME -- At first glance it is like any other day at St. Peter’s Basilica. The faithful filled the square, some waiting for an audience with the Holy Father, others snapping pictures.
But Thursday marks the start of the Protection of Minors in the Church summit at the Vatican. Victim survivors not originally invited to speak at the summit wanted to have their voices heard. The pope agreed so there was a powerful pre-summit Wednesday with some feisty exchanges and demands for action on clergy sex abuse.
Outside the square, victims told WGN’s Dina Bair the #MeToo movement from the U.S. is sweeping Rome.
“For anybody out there that maybe has a flickering of ‘I am scared, I want to tell my story, I don't know how to do it’ - It's ok,” Esther Hatfield Miller of SNAP said. “We can support you when you come and you raise your hand and you say timidly, 'Yeah, me too. This happened to me.'
Many who say it happened to them gathered on the outskirts of the colonnades, along with media crews from all over the world. They waited, as the Protection of Minors in the Church summit organizers, including Chicago’s Cardinal Blasé Cupich, met with those previously not scheduled to talk but not willing to walk away without being heard.
Peter Isley with the group Ending Clergy Abuse was among them.
“Cardinal Cupich is in there from Chicago and we did have a little confrontation,” he said.
Isley said his biggest complaint is there is no plan other than a plan to meet and talk about abuse.
“When are we going to see what you are going to do?” he said. “What we want is obvious, make it a universal law by the end of this summit in the church that if you’re sexually assaulted a child at any time, on Tuesday you are no longer a priest!”
Father Robert Gahl is an associate professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. He agrees and said words are not enough.
“We priests are also looking for reform because we priests don't want our vocation to be corrupted, and we want faithful priests to be honored,” Gahl said.
He said these moments empower the entire church.
“People are rightly suspicious that this might be a smokescreen and that there isn't going be real change,” Gahl said. “So fortunately everyone here is watching and it's definitely a critical moment and an opportunity for change in terms of new involvement of the laity.”
All of this drama before the official meeting even gets underway. WGN reached out to Cardinal Cupich who did not want to comment on Wednesday’s meeting.