LAHORE: In what could be dubbed a defining moment for the 82-year old Pope Francis’s papacy, an unprecedented four-day summit attended by not fewer than 190 Catholic Church leaders from across the planet, has kicked off at the Vatican City to discuss the unchecked sexual abuses perpetrated by priests.
With Pope Francis, an Argentinean national, leading the historic moot in the Italian city of Rome to address the crisis under great pressure from the victims, group discussions among bishops are going on to devise a foolproof mechanism that could check the growing number of such incidents.
Research shows, the Vatican had also published similar guidelines in May 2011 to deal with the clergy sexual abuse cases, both “New York Times” and the “Washington Post” had then reported.
The enormity of the crisis has certainly shaken up the walls of the Vatican, which is now widely being accused of showing leniency to an issue that should have been forcefully addressed decades ago when stories regarding had first surfaced across the world, particularly in the United States.
On the first day of this summit on February 21 last, the Church leaders heard searing pre-recorded video testimonials from abuse survivors, including one made pregnant thrice by a priest who had stated abusing the victim when she was 15 only, the “New York Times” has reported.
The prestigious American newspaper said the guilty priest would physically beat the girl up and compelled her to have abortions.
The “New York Times” maintains: “Outside the Vatican walls, clusters of people who have suffered abuse in the Catholic Church hovered near news conferences, gave hours’ worth of interviews, observed vigils and planned a Saturday march. Many expressed exasperation and little optimism that an extraordinary four-day meeting of bishops and other participants convened by Pope Francis to grapple with clerical child sexual abuse would lead to even basic changes.”
The “CNN” has gone on to quote Pope Francis as saying: “In the face of this scourge of sexual abuse perpetrated by men of the church to the detriment of minors, I thought I would summon you so that all together we may lend an ear and listen to the Holy Spirit---and to the cry of the small ones who are asking for justice. The holy people of God are looking at us and expect from us mot simple condemnations but concrete and effective measures to put in place. We need to be concrete.”
Research tells that Pope Francis is the first to visit and hold papal mass in the Arab world, and is the first pope to head Vatican City from outside Europe since the 8th century.
Meanwhile, another key American media house, the “Washington Post” has viewed: “This week, one arch-conservative Catholic website published a commentary saying that gay clerics needed to leave the priesthood permanently. Two traditional cardinals wrote an open letter decrying the “homosexual agenda” that they said was spreading throughout the church. And a gossipy 550-page book was set for release purporting to lift the veil on the double lives inside the Vatican, one of the biggest gay communities in the world. The prevalence of mostly closeted gay priests has recently been portrayed in all manners, from the work of the devil to something the church should learn to embrace.”
Research conducted by the “Jang Group and Geo Television network” shows that incidents of child sexual abuse by men at Church, and even nuns, have been reported throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and have led to many allegations, investigations, trials and convictions, as well as revelations about decades of attempts by the Church to cover up reported incidents.
While Pope John Paul II had apologized in 2001 and called sexual abuse within the Church “a profound contradiction of the teaching and witness of Jesus Christ,” his predecessor Pope Benedict had met with victims, sought pardon and had spoken about the evil of abuse, besides calling for perpetrators to be brought to justice, and denounced mishandling by church authorities.
(References: The BBC News and the Daily Telegraph)
At the start of 2018, Pope Francis had vehemently denied reports of widespread sexual abuse by priests in Chile.
But following an outcry, he had introduced a probe that led to every bishop in Chile submitting his resignation, though only a few of these were accepted.
By mid-2018, after a series of abuse scandals had rocked many countries, including the revelation that over a 50-year period, more than 300 priests were accused of abuse in the state of Pennsylvania alone, Pope Francis had termed the state of affairs as shameful.
However, the abusive priests or men who covered-up these incidents were not removed from their positions. For example, the Archbishop of Washington, DC, was accused in the report of shielding predator priests. As bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years, he oversaw 32 of the 99 accused.
Over the years, the United States Catholic Church has paid over $3 billion in response to abuse allegations. About 17 million Catholic households in the country donate an average $10 each week, totaling about $9 billion each year.
(References: The June 11, 2018 edition of the “Los Angeles Times” and August 20, 2018 edition of the “CBC Evening News”)
A peek into this subject further shows that from 2001 to 2010, the Hole See, the governing body of the Catholic Church, considered sex abuse allegations involving about 3,000 priests dating back almost 50 years, reflecting worldwide patterns of long-term abuse as well as the Church hierarchy’s pattern of regularly covering up reports of abuse.
(Reference: The May 4, 2010 edition of the BBC News)
In 2002, the discovery that the sex abuse by Catholic priests was widespread across the United States had received significant media coverage. For the first 100 days, the “New York Times” alone had 225 pieces, including news and commentary, and the story appeared on its front page on 26 occasions.
(Reference: Jeffrey Nelson’s 2009 book "Sex abuse in the American Catholic Church and the attempt at redemption”)