Pope opens child sex abuse conference,
promising 'concrete' remedies
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[February 21, 2019]
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis
promised that concrete actions against child sexual abuse by priests
would result from a conference he opened on Thursday, countering
scepticism from some survivors who said the meeting looked like a public
Francis convened Catholic leaders from around the world for the four-day
meeting to address the scandal that has ravaged the Church's credibility
in the United States - where it has paid billions of dollars in
settlements - Ireland, Chile, Australia, and elsewhere over the last
"Faced with the scourge of sexual abuse committed by men of the Church
against minors, I wanted to reach out to you," Francis told the
assembled bishops and heads of religious orders, asking them to "listen
to the cry of the little ones who are seeking justice."
Victims expected "concrete and efficient measures" and not mere
condemnations, he added.
The pope and the almost 200 participants in a Vatican auditorium watched
a video of five victims, who wished to remain anonymous, telling painful
stories of abuse and cover-up.
"From the age of 15 I had sexual relations with a priest. This lasted
for 13 years. I got pregnant three times and he made me have an abortion
three times, quite simply because he did not want to use condoms or
contraceptives," a woman said.
A Chilean man said that when he reported abuse to religious authorities
he was treated as a liar and an enemy of the Church.
"You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you
have been transformed - in some cases - into murderers of the soul, into
murderers of the faith. What a terrible contradiction," he said.
Cardinal Luis Tagle of the Philippines broke into tears as he read a
keynote speech that acknowledged: "wounds have been inflicted by us, the
bishops, on the victims".
In Ireland, the sexual abuse scandal shattered the power of the Church
which four decades ago dominated Irish society. In the past four years,
voters approved abortion and gay marriage, defying the Vatican.
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Pope Francis delivers a speech during the four-day meeting on the
global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, February 21, 2019, in
this screen grab taken from video. Vatican TV via REUTERS
In Chile, all of the country's bishops offered their resignations to
the pope last year over a widespread cover-up. Francis accepted
seven of the resignations and dismissed two others from the
A poll by Santiago-based think-tank Latinobarometro showed the
number of Chileans calling themselves Catholics fell to 45 percent
last year, from 74 percent in 1995.
A report by a grand jury in Pennsylvania last year revealed that
priests had sexually abused about 1,000 people over seven decades in
that U.S. state alone.
Before it started, some victims' groups said the conference was an
attempt to cleanse the image of the 1.3 billion-member Church.
But Anne Barrett-Doyle of bishopaccountablity.org, which tracks
abuse cases around the world, said she was pleasantly surprised by
the pope's opening remarks.
"They said this was going to just a teaching session but he is now
talking about concrete measures. That's good but let's see how it
ends up," she told Reuters.
Journalists were permitted to listen to the conference speeches via
audio and video links but not the debates that followed.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the Vatican's top sexual abuse
investigator, said the Church had to look at how priests and bishops
"The question of future screening of candidates for the priesthood
is fundamental," he said in a speech steeped in legal details about
how bishops must collaborate with civil authorities, adopting a
"culture of disclosure" and for society to know that "we mean
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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