Vatican sex abuse summit seeks new culture of accountability

VATICAN CITY — Bishops from around the world ended their three-day sex abuse summit this weekend with a penitential mass, praying for forgiveness for crimes that were committed and covered up for years.

Though there have been reform efforts in the past, those gathered in Rome said change is guaranteed this time around.

Demonstrators from the U.S., India, Africa, Canada and the Philippines have kept a close eye on the Vatican this week.

After three days and dozens of proposals for change in what the Holy Father calls a concrete plan, victims said only mandatory reporting is acceptable.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi was sexually abused by a priest as a child. He said he is devoted to changing the church he still loves.

“I know exactly what’s going on,” Rozzi said. “They truly aren’t meaning what they are saying because if they did, they would stand behind us, and Pope Francis would tell his bishops to stand down, stop blocking victims from going into a civil court of law and receiving not only justice but the truth about how and why.”

Abuse survivors supported each other at Piazza del Popolo, calling for zero tolerance for abuse and cover-ups.

Other survivors echoed those sentiments standing before bishops at the meeting. A young woman left bishops speechless by describing the priest who overpowered and abused her. It’s something she’ll never forget.

“These thoughts are the worst wounds that the abuse, and the abuser, insinuates into your heart, more than the wounds that lacerate your body,” she said. “I just wanted to die. I tried. ... There are also those who tried and did not make it. It is from here, with them in our hearts, that we must start again, together.”

Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the archbishop of Malta, said listening to victims’ narratives is essential as a motivation for getting it right.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany offered a step-by-step guide to begin transitioning the church’s apology from words to actions. It would begin with publicly sharing statistics on the number of cases and details about each one.

“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed or not even created,” he said. “Establishing transparent procedural norms and rules for ecclesiastical processes is essential.”

The worldwide crisis taking center stage in Rome has often been considered an American problem. Intense discussion brought bishops to the realization that children have suffered globally. But there will be no specific rules mandated for handling sex abuse cases.

“There will be norms issued by Vatican City,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said, “which we can look at to see if we are in conformity with those. And then bishops will have to go back home and deal with the issue of how they’re going to hold each other accountable.”

For many who spent their lives trying to shed the anguish of their abuse, the discussion alone offers hope for the future.

“I was abused as a girl,” survivor Gemma Hickey said. “I am transgender, so it’s been an interesting journey. It’s very isolating to grow up in this culture of repression and secrecy. But to be here among other people, to be out talking about our experiences and comforting each other — that’s life changing.”

The chapter on sex abuse in the Catholic church does not end with the summit. After a final mass with the Holy Father, efforts for reform head to the home countries of those who attended.

WGN News coverage of the sex abuse meeting continues all week from the Vatican.

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