Pope Francis Holds Meeting on Victims for Change at the Vatican

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Pope Francis Holds Meeting on Victims for Change at the Vatican

Christiana Lenzer, Staff Writer

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“Victims need to be believed,” a pre-recorded video of a victim pleaded inside the Vatican on Thursday, one of the many video testimonials from abuse survivors Roman Catholic Church leaders listened to. The videos pleading for common ground, to hold sexually deviant clerics accountable.

Following Pope Francis’ four-day meeting, many expressed little optimism that Pope Francis and the Vatican would grapple with the reality of clerical sexual abuse around the world, failing to lead to even basic changes. “Same old, same old,” said Tim Law, president of survivors’ support group, Ending Clergy Abuse. “For six years of his papacy he has said, ‘zero tolerance, zero tolerance,’” he added. “He’s backed down.”

Acting as the most visible step taken by the Vatican in regard to the crisis that has inevitably shaken the faithful, Pope Francis’ meeting may have potentially been the most consequential moment for this papacy. Will there be action taken as a result of the virus of abuse spreading from parish to parish?

Victims and advocates are demanding a policy of zero tolerance and dismissal from the clerical state for abusive priests and the bishops who protect them, seeking to balance the faith’s belief in “unconditional love for those who have done wrong” with the need for justice for victims. Critics have asked why anyone should listen to a moral leader, Pope Francis, who is unable, or unwilling, to clean up his own house.

After addressing the 190 Catholic Church leaders on Thursday, despite his acknowledgment that “we hear the cry of the little ones asking for justice,” he offered remedies that disappointed many victims. Instead Francis- provided those assembled with 21 “reflection points.” They included deciding that priests and bishops found guilty of abuse should be dismissed from the public ministry, falling short of what most advocates consider zero-tolerance- automatic dismissal from the clerical state. “You have to take it on a case-by-case basis,” Archbishop Scicluna said, promising no remedy.

Since last year, Francis has opened the dialogue on the conversation regarding the abuse, admitting errors, asking penance and toughening his stance toward those who committed, and covered up the crimes. He since has pushed out bishops in Chile and last week defrocked the American former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Following Pope Francis’ speech, the assembled bishops watched video presentations of testimony from unidentified victims- spreading the word that the abuses were real. “The first thing they did was to treat me as a liar, turn their backs and tell me that I, and others, were enemies of the church,” a victim from Chile confessed of church leaders. “This pattern exists not only in Chile,” the victim added. “It exists all over the world, and this must end.”

Archbishop Scicluna, the Vatican’s sex crimes investigator said the faithful “have the duty and the rights” to report abuse and “civil or domestic laws should be obeyed.” Guilty verdicts, he said, should be promptly communicated publicly.

However, some bishops said that was not a new lesson, “these things are known,” Bishop Ricardo Ernesto Centellas Guzmán said. “There is nothing new.”