The Malta Independent 21 May 2019, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Vatican summit - Tackling sexual abuse by priests

Thursday, 21 February 2019, 09:51 Last update: about 4 months ago

A four-day summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse is being held at the Vatican this week. It is a meeting during which the Church will make it clear to Catholic bishops around the world that there is a need for all hands to be on deck to curb, possibly eliminate, priestly abuse and, also, cover-ups of such scandals.

The meeting follows a series of scandals that have rocked the foundations of the Catholic Church, with stories emerging from all corners of the world of priests who abuse vulnerable people, with their superiors then concealing the terrible happenings,

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Such scandals have been taking place for decades, with the Church for many years barely lifting a finger, if at all. Malta has also not been spared, with a number of priests having to face the consequences of their misbehaviour.

At least, under Pope Francis, the Church has recognised that there is a problem and it has started to tackle it.

Pope Francis said he wanted the summit to be "an act of strong pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge of our time."

Some may say it is too late. It certainly is for the people who have been abused by priests over the years, many of whom have been scarred for life. But the fact that the Church has finally woken up and accepted that not all is well within its confines is a first, big step in the right direction.

The summit, which has been organised by a committee set up by Pope Francis which includes Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna, will be divided into three main parts ranging from the bishops’ responsibilities towards preventing abuse and investigating it when they are alerted to it and their need to work together to protect children.

Bishops will also be given direct testimonies from survivors, who will share their pain and speak of their difficulties in making their voices heard in an organisation that has for decades tried to sweep such problems under the carpet.

The aim of the summit it to create task forces on each continent to help individual bishops deal with situations as they arise, develop guidelines that could be followed and also to help victims of such abuse.

It is hoped that, once the summit is over, all bishops will return to their dioceses with more information and better awareness of what needs to be done when they are confronted with stories of priests who abuse their position.

It would be a sad day if what is discussed at the summit will not lead to some kind of action. It must be remembered that sex scandals involving priests have shaken the faith of many Catholics and pushed them further away from the Church.

The Church must show the world that it means business. A founding member of the advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse, Peter Isely, said: "You abuse a child, you have to be removed from the priesthood. If you cover up for abusing a child, you have to be removed from the priesthood."

We cannot agree more. But it should not stop here. Any priest caught sexually abusing children and any bishop caught attempting to hide the abuse must also be brought to justice.

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