Pope Francis Summons World’s Bishops to Satisfy on Sexual Assault

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By New York Times|Updated: September 12, 2018

VATICAN CITY-– Pope Francis summoned bishops from around the globe to Rome for an unprecedented meeting focused on protecting minors. The order on Wednesday comes as the pope wrestles with an international clerical sexual assault crisis and explosive accusations of a cover-up that have actually shaken his papacy and the entire Roman Catholic Church.

The extraordinary meeting marks the first time that presidents of bishops’ conferences worldwide have been summoned for a conference on a specific topic– more than 100 will exist– and the choice of topic was informing. Simply last month, the Vatican’s previous ambassador in the United States implicated the pope of willfully ignoring a history of sexual misbehavior by an American cardinal.

After three years of rejection, the Vatican is being required to treat the sex abuse problem as a global crisis, and not the failing of a particular country or culture.

News of the pope’s summons came as a study commissioned by the church in Germany revealed the abuse of countless children by more than a thousand clergymen there for decades. The research study was due to be published later this month, but was leaked.

” We understand the level of the sexual assault that is supported by the results of the research study,” stated Stephan Ackermann, the bishop of Trier. “It is outrageous and dismal.”

When the scandal initially emerged in the United States in the mid-1980s, Vatican authorities called it an American phenomenon, church historians state. When it spread to Canada, Ireland, England and Australia, they framed it as an issue of the church in the English-speaking countries.

Then, when the scandal appeared in Germany, Belgium, France and Austria around 2010 during the papacy of Benedict XVI, the Vatican called it an issue of the industrialized world, born of sexual libertinism.

Now, with cases of priests sexually abusing kids emerging in Chile and the Philippines, the Vatican may finally be embracing a global approach.

” The topic has to be tackled internationally,” said Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of abuse who resigned in frustration in 2017 from a Vatican commission on safeguarding minors developed by Francis. “There are bishops in parts of the world who do not even accept that abuse could occur in their dioceses.”

Ms. Collins stated she invited news of an international conference of bishops, but only if it produces concrete actions, and not simply more talk.

The pope called on the bishops’ conference presidents to collect from Feb. 21 to Feb. 24, the Vatican stated.

” It’s a vital decision by the pope due to the fact that the conferences play a crucial role in carrying out all the prevention measures to secure versus sexual assault in the church,” said Prof. Ernesto Caffo, a member of the pope’s Commission for the Defense of Minors.

Teacher Caffo stated the conference would concentrate on training bishops to spot abuse, hold one another accountable and to step in. They will also be taught to pay attention to victims.

The guidelines, he said, would be focused on protecting not just kids however also vulnerable grownups, including the disabled and seminarians.

The conference, Teacher Caffo said, would also consist of “a strategy that is common in Asia or in the United States or Europe.”

For now, the church in the United States has some of the strictest requirements, embraced in 2002 after the Boston scandal. They include necessary reporting of sexual abuse allegations to civil authorities and a “absolutely no tolerance” policy that is expected to eliminate abusive priests completely from ministry.

Around the world, each bishops’ conference is allowed to set its own requirements, and some have never ever produced any at all.

The Vatican commission on child sex abuse produced guidelines for securing children, Ms. Collins said. B ut the Vatican’s doctrinal workplace– the Parish for the Teaching of the Faith– chose not to distribute it to bishops’ conferences worldwide.

The pope’s summons, which captured many here by surprise, belonged to a flurry of activity around the crisis. On Thursday, the pope is to meet at the Vatican with a group of leading bishops from the United States who are looking for an investigation into why among their most popular coworkers was permitted to ascend to a leading position in the American church, regardless of accusations that he had sexually abused seminarians.

Reports of misconduct by that prelate, Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., resulted in his resignation as cardinal.

His follower in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, exposed on Tuesday that he prepared to talk in Rome with Francis “in the extremely future” about the possibility of the pope accepting the resignation that he tendered 3 years back, as required, upon turning 75. Cardinal Wuerl, formerly the archbishop of Pittsburgh, has actually faced withering criticism given that the release last month of a grand jury report saying that more than 1,000 children had actually been taken advantage of over decades in Pennsylvania, which church leaders had covered it up.

The McCarrick case continues to shake the church. In August, a bombshell letter by the previous Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, implicated Francis of raising sanctions versus then-Cardinal McCarrick that had actually been put in place by Francis’ predecessor, Benedict.

Given that Archbishop Viganò released his letter and called for Francis’ resignation, reports have actually called into question whether Benedict officially penalized Cardinal McCarrick, and have actually suggested that the Vatican had actually known about the American’s practice of welcoming seminarians into his bed given that 2000.

Neither Francis nor Benedict, who is retired, have responded to the letter, which has opened up an ideological war inside the Vatican.

On Tuesday, Francis suggested in an homily throughout his early morning Mass that the accusations against him and others in the Viganò letters were the devil’s work.

” In these times, it seems like the ‘Fantastic Accuser’ has been unchained and has it in for bishops,” he stated. “Real, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to reveal the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize individuals.”

Among the American church leaders arranged to satisfy the pope on Thursday to talk about the matter are Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo and Archbishop Jose Gomez, the president and vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Francis’ leading adviser on the sexual assault issue.

Professor Caffo said that the Security of Minors Commission and Cardinal O’Malley, its leader, had agreed upon the requirement for the conference and that Cardinal O’Malley had actually proposed it on Tuesday, telling them the Holy See needed “to offer more energy to this process.”

” Cardinal O’Malley is extremely happy about this,” Professor Caffo stated.

Numerous survivors of abuse, and people who project on their behalf, have regreted that the letters and the power struggles they have uncorked in the Vatican have eclipsed the central concern of securing kids from abuse within the church. The meetings Francis has required February are planned to put the problem front and center again.

For decades, abuse festered in the church.

It was not till 2002 that the sexual assault crisis came into open view, and the Vatican was forced to acknowledge an issue that has actually threatened its reliability worldwide. Under Pope John Paul II, Benedict functioned as the prefect for the Congregation of the Teaching of the Faith and personally read much of the files about clerical abuse. As pope, he cracked down on numerous priests.

There were high hopes after the election of Francis in 2013 that he would deal with the abuse problem systemically, and hold accountable bishops who covered it up. And initially, abuse survivors were motivated when Francis appeared to act upon a proposition by his unique commission on sexual abuse to produce a tribunal to discipline bishops who covered it up. When it satisfied resistance in the Vatican, the pope given with it.

The pope later on released an edict, entitled “As a Loving Mom,” stating that the Vatican currently had all the offices necessary to examine and discipline negligent bishops, and that it would do so. This angered abuse survivors on the commission.

Last month, on a flight from Dublin to Rome, Francis addressed the criticism over his lack of a universal reaction– or special tribunal– for bishops.

” We saw this wasn’t useful and it also wasn’t hassle-free for the various cultures of the bishops that needed to be judged,” he said. For now, he stated, “a bishop is evaluated by a tribunal, however it isn’t really always the exact same tribunal, as it is not possible.”

Professor Caffo worried that it was crucial to obtain the endorsement of the bishops’ conferences on how to prevent abuse. A single technique can have far different repercussions in various nations. In some, reporting allegations to the civil authorities might be a death sentence for priests.

” Every nation and location has a very different scenario,” Teacher Caffo said.

Teacher Caffo said he was optimistic that the conference would be a critical step in changing talk into “concrete action.”

Another member of the Vatican’s child-protection commission, the Rev. Hans Zollner, president of the Center for Kid Defense of the Pontifical Gregorian University, stated that in the last two years, he had heard far less bishops dismissing sexual assault as an European or american issue.

Dad Zollner said that when he spoke about the issue on Wednesday to about 120 new bishops from Africa, Asia and Latin America, one asked him exactly what to do when a fellow bishop does not cooperate with civil authorities, or is not following church law.

Father Zollner said he hoped the international conference in February would resolve this very concern.

Some remained skeptical.

Peter Isely, an abuse survivor from Milwaukee and a founding member of the group Ending Clerical Abuse, stated there seemed to be “two Francises,” one who expresses deep sadness and urgency about the issue, and the one who not does anything, or even worse. He stated that the years of hold-up on the problem needed to end.

“They much better deliver in February,” Mr. Isely said.

Follow Jason Horowitz on Twitter: @jasondhorowitz.

Jason Horowitz reported from Vatican City, and Laurie Goodstein from New York. Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin.