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The Vatican Summit: Too Little Too Late?

Pope Francis summit sexual abuse
VATICAN CITY VATICAN - Nov 20 2015: Pope Francis during a meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

One hundred ninety senior leaders of the Catholic church are meeting at the Vatican this week to address what the Pope calls a “plague” wreaking havoc on the church. Pope Francis called top leaders from around the world to convene and discuss possible solutions to the crisis of sexual abuse happening in Catholic churches worldwide.

Pope Francis opened the summit by asking the Holy Spirit to “sustain” those participating in the summit and “help us to turn this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification….as we seek to heal the grave wounds that the scandal of pedophilia has caused, both in the little ones and in believers.”

This is the first time the Vatican has hosted such a summit. They have brought in all of the presidents of bishops to discuss the crisis of sexual abuse plaguing the church. The summit, which started on Thursday, is scheduled to culminate with a Mass on Sunday, February 24.

Day one’s theme was “responsibility.” In December, Pope Francis asked the participants of the summit to meet with victims so they could understand and feel “the pain and suffering of the victims.” The summit also opened with the presidents hearing testimony from five people from Africa, Asia, North and South America who were abused by priests. These testimonies were so personal and moving that the crowd was silent after they were done. Reporting from the Vatican, the Catholic publication America said there was “a silence in the room like that of a cemetery.”

According to America reporters, the Pope emphasized the need for Catholic leadership to take concrete measures to address the “plague” of sexual abuse. Apparently, the Pope surprised participants when he presented them with 21 guidelines for addressing the crisis and engaging with the material presented at the summit.

Day two’s theme was “accountability” and participants heard from Mumbai Cardinal Oswald Gracias and Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich. Gracias said it was necessary for leaders to repent “collegially” due to their failure to help victims. Cupich’s speech focused on the need to develop new procedures for reporting and investigating clergy who are accused of abuse.

While the Pope emphasized the need to hear from survivors of abuse in his opening statements, some are criticizing him for skipping a meeting with survivors that was scheduled for Wednesday, on the eve of the summit. Gracias was also recently accused of turning a blind eye when a mother approached him earlier in the week saying her son had been abused by a parish priest. Apparently, Gracias left for the summit and didn’t report the abuse before he left.

The response to the summit has been varied. Surely the summit is seen as a good first step to address the worldwide crisis the Catholic church is facing, but some argue that it is too little, too late. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) wrote a letter to the Pope outlining “concrete actions” they would like to see come from the summit. Among them is to remove any guidelines that have clergy report suspected abuse to church officials and instead have them report to local law enforcement officials. The letter also suggested the Pope kick off the summit by firing anyone in attendance who has covered up or minimized cases of abuse.

As Protestants are dealing with their own sexual abuse crises, the world waits to see how the senior Catholic Church will deal with its own.