New York Times:- With his moral authority in question and his papal legacy in the balance, Pope Francis opened a historic summit meeting at the Vatican on Thursday devoted to clerical child sexual abuse, an issue that has for decades devastated some corners of his vast church while being utterly ignored and denied in others.
“We hear the cry of the little ones asking for justice,” Francis told the 190 leaders of the Roman Catholic Church who had assembled from around the world at the start of a four-day conference intended to instruct them on the depth and universality of the problem and how to deal with it.
“The holy people of God look to us and expect from us not simple and obvious condemnations, but concrete and effective measures,” Francis said.
Survivors of clerical abuse, their advocates and faithful disheartened and disgusted by the failure to address the abuses are demanding that the church enshrine in Canon Law a policy of zero tolerance for abusive priests and bishops who cover for them.
The Vatican made clear on Thursday that that was not in the cards. Instead, Francis — who intends the meeting to be a “catechesis,” educating bishops and religious leaders so they could undergo a conversion of spirit on the severity of the crisis — provided them with 21 “reflection points.”
“They are a road map for our discussion,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s leading sex crimes investigator, said in a news conference. “They are very, very concrete.”
The points included codifying the participation of lay experts in sexual abuse investigations; ensuring priests and bishops found guilty of abuse are dismissed from ministry; preventing the names of accused clerics being published before convictions; and requiring reporting to civil authorities and church superiors.
Other points set out specific protocols for handling accusations against bishops, screening seminarians, increasing pastoral focus on abuse victims, and greater collaboration with the media to determine the credibility of accusations. Another raised the minimum age for marriage in the church to 16 from 14 for women.
There was no mention of a zero-tolerance policy, or of automatic dismissal from the clerical state, for abusive priests and or for bishops who concealed abuse.
“You have to take it on a case-by-case basis,” Archbishop Scicluna said.