A landmark four-day summit in the Vatican is currently taking place to look into the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic clergy.
The meeting, which began on February 21, has brought together an extraordinary panoply of 190 participants from around the Catholic world. These include 114 presidents of bishops’ conferences or their delegates, representatives from 14 Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, who are often referred to as ‘Greek Catholics’ but are in full communion with Rome, as well as female and male leaders of key religious orders and the chiefs of several Vatican congregations.
The summit, convened by Pope Francis last September, includes two speeches by Francis, talks outlining best practices, small group discussions among bishops and a penitential ceremony involving abuse survivors.
Catholic leaders at this week’s meeting come from almost every part of the globe, with 36 from Africa, 24 others from North and South America, 18 from Asia, 32 from Europe, and four from Oceania.
The meeting is widely seen as a belated recognition that the sexual abuse of children by some members of the Catholic clergy is a global issue
Speaking on February 21, Alessandro Gisotti, a Vatican spokesman, said, “We must look this monster in the face without fear if we really want to conquer it.”
The high profile meeting comes after Francis last week defrocked Theodore E. McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, D.C., after a church finding that he had sexually abused minors and adult seminarians.
McCarrick, 88, who resigned from the Vatican’s College of Cardinals in July, is the first cardinal ever to be defrocked for sexually abusing a minor.
Prosecutors France said they were investigating a sexual assault complaint made against the Vatican’s envoy to Paris, 74-year-old Luigi Ventura.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the Vatican’s chief sex crimes investigator, praised the media for their investigative stories that have “bought this topic to where it belongs.” The rampant sexual abuse of minors by priests has been a difficult issue for Pope Francis, who has counselled for tolerance of homosexuals. Francis heads an international priesthood who do not obey the church’s vow of celibacy law, but who also dare not speak openly about their sexual orientation.
Asked at a news conference on February 21 about the culture of secrecy that has allowed known molesters to remain in the church for decades without their parishioners’ knowledge, he said that “silence is a no-go,”
The meeting at the Vatican also presents an occasion for the exchange of views on various important themes, including the protection of minors and the defence of human rights. Speaking last month after meeting Francis, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland said the Pope’s voice is “incredibly important today.”
Jagland added that the two leaders had spoken about how to combat the phenomenon of rampant sexual abuse of children. “We can join forces,” Jagland said.
“If the Vatican and the Council of Europe could together give a clear message to the world that this – sexually abusing children – is not only unacceptable, it would be a very, very strong message.
The scale of the problem is impossible to measure statistically.
A study in the United States said that between 3% and 4% of the clergy were involved in sexual abuse cases before 2002 when stricter guidelines were published.
While the Catholic Church says it is trying to address the problem, other churches have also been affected.
The Protestant Southern Baptist Convention in the United States has been hit by a wide-ranging sex abuse scandal involving almost 400 pastors, volunteers, and teachers that stretched back over two decades.
In many parts of the world, discussing violence towards children and even sex is taboo, which led the Vatican to organise the gathering.