Pope Decries ‘Scourge of Sexual Abuse Perpetrated by Ecclesiastics’

U.S. Catholics
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

Pope Francis opened the landmark Vatican summit on clerical sex abuse Thursday morning by urging his fellow bishops to “hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice.”

The pope told the 190 heads of bishops’ conferences and religious superiors that he had called them to the Vatican in light of “the scourge of sexual abuse perpetrated by ecclesiastics to the great harm of minors.”

“In this meeting, we sense the weight of the pastoral and ecclesial responsibility that obliges us to discuss together, in a synodal, frank and in-depth manner, how to confront this evil afflicting the Church and humanity,” Francis said.

He added that mere condemnations and hand-wringing are insufficient and that practical measures to address clerical sex abuse are imperative.

“The holy People of God looks to us, and expects from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken. We need to be concrete,” he said.

The pope also said that the materials offered to the participants in the summit are meant as a subsidiary aid to help guide discussions, but not to condition them.

“They are a simple point of departure that came from you and now return to you. They are not meant to detract from the creativity needed in this meeting,” he said.

“Finally, I ask the Holy Spirit to sustain us throughout these days, and to help us to turn this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification,” he said.

In past days, observers have suggested that the three-day summit may be insufficient to deal with the problem in all its breadth.

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, for example, wrote in January that the Vatican summit “will fail” because it will not deliver what abuse victims, the media, and the faithful are hoping for.

The former editor-in-chief of America magazine said that “four days is much too short a time to deal with such an important and complicated issue,” suggesting that the program for the event is far too ambitious and will barely scratch the surface of the problem.

Meanwhile, a former papal nuncio to the United States expressed his doubts as well, suggesting that the meeting will be plagued by an unwillingness to address the root causes of the crisis, notably the extensive homosexual network in the Church.

“Why does the word ‘homosexuality’ never appear in recent official documents of the Holy See?” asked Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in a recent symposium, noting that “the overwhelming majority of abuse has been inflicted on post-pubescent boys by homosexual clerics.”

“It is mere hypocrisy to condemn the abuse and claim to sympathize with the victims without facing up to this fact honestly. A spiritual revitalization of the clergy is necessary, but it will be ultimately ineffectual if it does not address this problem,” the archbishop stated.

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