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Vatican sex abuse summit calls for new culture of accountability

Updated February 23, 2019

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Cardinals attending Pope Francis’ summit on preventing clergy sex abuse called on Friday for a new culture of accountability in the Catholic Church to punish bishops and religious superiors when they fail to protect their flocks from predator priests. — AP
Cardinals attending Pope Francis’ summit on preventing clergy sex abuse called on Friday for a new culture of accountability in the Catholic Church to punish bishops and religious superiors when they fail to protect their flocks from predator priests. — AP

VATICAN: Cardinals attending Pope Francis’ summit on preventing clergy sex abuse called on Friday for a new culture of accountability in the Catholic Church to punish bishops and religious superiors when they fail to protect their flocks from predator priests.

On the second day of Francis’ extraordinary gathering of Catholic leaders, the debate shifted to how church leaders must acknowledge that decades of their own cover-ups, secrecy and fear of scandal had only worsened the sex abuse crisis.

“We must repent, and do so together, collegially, because along the way we have failed,” said Mumbai Cardinal Oswald Gracias. “We need to seek pardon.” Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich told the 190 bishops and religious superiors that new legal procedures were needed to both report and investigate Catholic superiors when they are accused of misconduct themselves or of negligence in handling abuse cases.

He said lay experts must be involved at every step of the process, since rank-and-file Catholics know far better than priests what trauma the clergy sex abuse and its cover-up has caused.

“It is the witness of the laity, especially mothers and fathers with great love for the church, who have pointed out movingly and forcefully how gravely incompatible the commission, cover-up and toleration of clergy sexual abuse is with the very meaning and essence of the church,” Cupich said.

“Mothers and fathers have called us to account, for they simply cannot comprehend how we as bishops and religious superiors have often been blinded to the scope and damage of sexual abuse of minors,” he said.

Pope Francis summoned the bishops for the four-day tutorial on preventing sex abuse and protecting children after the scandal erupted again last year in Chile and the US. While the Vatican for two decades has tried to crack down on the abusers themselves, it has largely given their bishops and superiors who moved them around from parish to parish a pass.

Cupich called for transparent new structures to report allegations against superiors, investigate them and establish clear procedures to remove them from office if they are guilty of grave negligence in handling cases.

He proposed that metropolitan bishops who are responsible for other bishops in their geographic area should be tasked with conducting the investigations, with the help of lay experts. The metropolitan bishop would then forward the results to the Vatican.

It wasn’t immediately clear how Cupich’s proposals squared with those being studied by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops at large.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2019