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Survivors of clergy abuse in Rome for Vatican summit

Survivors of clerical sexual abuse addressing reports at Foreign Press Association in Rome
Survivors of clerical sexual abuse addressing reports at Foreign Press Association in Rome Sabina Castelfranco

Survivors of sexual abuse by the clergy have come to Rome to tell Pope Francis what they expect should happen at a Vatican meeting on the issue, to be attended by bishops from all over the world.


The four-day meeting on sexual abuse in the Church opens in the Vatican synod hall on Thursday and will be attended by around two hundred bishops from all over the world.

Pope Francis called the meeting as the abuse crisis continued to undermine the credibility of the church’s hierarchy.

Organisers of the gathering said those attending the summit will share experiences and discuss issues to be developed, such as the accountability of bishops, their responsibilities and transparency.

Survivors and activists from around 20 countries also gathered in Rome with their expectations for the summit. Among them was Peter Isely, who was sexually abused by a priest in the United States when he was a boy.

Global problem

“This is a historic moment," he told reporters in Rome. "This has taken decades. This has taken centuries to happen. And it has now been recognised.

"Pope Francis has clearly recognised it as a global problem. And that’s why we have the bishops from around the globe – because it is a global problem."

Isely said the same pattern of deceit, non-transparency and irresponsibility by church leaders was occurring everywhere. He and other survivors would be making requests to the one person who, in their eyes, can make the difference with his authority. Survivors said many were filled with hope when the new pope was elected six years ago.

“He took the name of Francis," Isley said. "That was a tremendous and bold thing to do. To take the name of Francis of Assisi, the most beloved saint of the Catholic Church. Saint Francis is for everybody, he’s for the world and to take that name was saying he’s going to do what Saint Francis did. He’s going to reform this church.”

'Infallible doctrine'

Survivors want what Pope Francis promised six years ago: Zero Tolerance. And zero tolerance, survivors say, has two dimensions to it – zero tolerance for any member of the church who has abused, and for anyone who has covered up for child sex crimes. 

“And that’s not just going to be a sentiment, that’s just not going to be an idea, that’s not just going to be a hope, that’s going to be written into the universal law of the Roman Catholic Church, it’s going to be like an infallible doctrine from now on, ” Isely added.

Whether this will happen remains to be seen. Survivors said that after this has been acknowledged and written into Church law, the next steps will be identifying all abusers and removing them from their positions.

Just like the Pope did in the recent case of former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked just days before the summit after having been found guilty of sexual abuse. The final hope survivors have is to reach what still appears to be the impossible: “a post-abuse and cover up Church”, a church everyone will want to be part of. 


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