Organizers of Pope Francis’ summit on preventing clergy sex abuse will meet this week with a dozen survivor-activists who have come to Rome to protest the Catholic Church’s response to date and demand an end to decades of cover-up by church leaders.
These survivors will not be addressing the summit of church leaders itself. Rather, they will meet Wednesday with the four-member organizing committee to convey their complaints. The larger summit of 180 presidents of bishops conferences from around the world begins Thursday.
Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who is coordinating the survivor meeting, told The Associated Press he hopes for a “constructive and open dialogue” and for summit committee members to convey the survivors’ demand that bishops stop pleading ignorance about abuse.
“This has to stop,” Cruz said. “Raping a child or a vulnerable person and abusing them has been wrong since the 1st century, the Middle Ages and now.”
Francis called the summit in September after he himself discredited Cruz and other Chilean victims of a notorious predator priest. Francis was subsequently implicated in the cover-up of Theodore McCarrick, the onetime powerful American cardinal who just last week was defrocked for sexually abusing minors as well as adults.
Francis appointed a four-member organizing committee headed by the Vatican’s top sex crimes investigator, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, Mumbai Cardinal Osvald Gracias and the Rev. Hans Zollner, a member of Francis’ sex abuse advisory commission.
They had urged participants to meet with victims before they came to Rome, to both familiarize themselves with victims’ pain and trauma and debunk the widely held idea that clergy sex abuse only happens in some parts of the world, Cupich told AP last week. Survivors will be represented at the summit itself via some video testimony, he said.
Cruz said the key message for the bishops to take away from the summit is that they must enforce true “zero tolerance” or face the consequences.
“There are enforceable laws in the church to punish not only those who commit the abuse but those who cover it up,” he told AP. “No matter what rank they have in the church, they should pay.”