February 25, 2019 — Pope Francis concluded the four-day "Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church" with 190 Catholic bishops on Sunday, vowing that the church will "decisively confront" the abuse of minors.
While the Vatican summit has ended, the work to ensure that laws and concrete actions are put in place is just beginning, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who served as moderator of the summit. During a press briefing on Feb. 24, Fr. Lombardi said Pope Francis will soon publish a new set of laws and guidelines concerning child protection for Vatican City State.
Fr. Lombardi said another forthcoming initiative will be a guide for bishops, prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that would make clear the duties and tasks of all bishops when confronting abuse allegations.
Lastly, Pope Francis intends to establish task forces of “competent persons" who will assist dioceses and episcopal conferences "that find it difficult to confront the problems and produce initiatives for the protection of minors," especially when they lack the needed resources and skilled personnel.
Pope Francis and church leaders from around the world attend a Mass on the last day of the meeting on the protection of minors in the church. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella)
The historic summit brought together the heads of 114 bishops' conferences from around the world, as well as the leaders of religious congregations, curial officials and laypeople to discuss the sins of the church and to hear directly from the victims themselves.
Speakers shared their criticisms regarding the way that the church has handled abuse crises to date.
Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota dismissed those who say the problem is worse elsewhere. "The fact that abuses occur in other institutions and groups can never justify the occurrence of abuses in the church," he said. He urged his fellow bishops, "We have to recognize that the enemy is within."
Other bishops addressed the needs for practical changes in administration, in church law and in how the bishops related to each other, both personally and in terms of their dioceses and conferences.
Nigerian Sister Veronica Openibo, leader of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, said that church leaders cannot think they can "keep silent until the storm has passed. This storm will not pass by."
Nigerian Sister Veronica Openibo speaks at a briefing on the third day of the summit at the Vatican. At left is Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
“The first step toward true transparency is to admit wrongdoing and then to publish what has been done since the time of Pope John Paul II to heal the situation,” said Sister Openibo. “It may not be sufficient in the eyes of many, but it will show that the church had not been totally silent.”
Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki challenged the assembled leaders: "If you do not decide in a radical way to be on the side of the children, mothers, families, civil society, you are right to be afraid of us, because we journalists, who seek the common good, will be your worst enemies."
Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said that “the attitude at the beginning [of the summit] was different, and certainly by the end was very different. I’ve heard from many working groups and many people individually that they have been transformed.” Fr. Zollner said the change came from listening to victims before and during the meeting.
Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, served as the moderator of the Vatican meeting on the protection of minors in the church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
During the pope’s final speech at the summit he called clerics who abuse children "tools of Satan" and declared that such criminal behavior is "utterly incompatible with [the church's] moral authority and ethical credibility."
"The church's aim will … be to hear, watch over, protect and care for abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are," the pope said.