More than 100 bishops and 30 religious superiors convened in Rome for a symposium billed as a "global initiative on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults," the first such event on this scale, in which Vatican officials plan to address the sexual abuse of minors by clergy members. However, victims remain skeptical that any true change will come as a result of the meeting.
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church began the four-day symposium called "Towards Healing and Renewal" Monday at Rome's Gregorian University in response to years of severe criticism over scandals involving the church.
Over the past 10 years, as cases of abuse prominently emerged in North America and several European countries, Catholic Church officials were criticized for being slow and clumsy in their responses to abuse. Now, the summit's participants are reportedly discussing how the church can better listen to victims, cultivate a consistent response to cases of pedophilia and prevent potential new abuse cases.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's top official for abuse cases, stressed that the church had already made clear that bishops had to follow civil law on such cases, and that the discussions this week could better assist the church in developing guidelines to prevent future cases of abuse, according to The New York Times. It is Scicluna's job "to investigate crimes committed by a cleric against a person under the age of eighteen," as described by the Vatican.
The U.S. Cardinal heading the Vatican office dealing with allegations of clerical abuse, William J. Levada, reportedly admitted that the church's relations with civil authorities may differ depending on a country, but he stressed that this must not affect the basic principle of cooperation, as he urged bishops to be "more proactive" in their response to the crisis, rather than wait for the scandal to erupt in the media.
"We need to help each other find the best ways to help victims, protect children," Levada said during his keynote speech, as quoted by the NYT, adding that another crucial thing to work on is to educate priests "to be aware of this scourge and to eliminate it from the priesthood."
Levada has dealt with priests who had committed sexual abuse in Portland and in San Francisco in the past, and was criticized by some for not being efficient enough.
Although the symposium is a clear attempt at reconciliation with clergy abuse victims, the largest association of such victims, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest (SNAP), based in the United States but affiliated with victims in many countries, is not appeased by the meeting. The organization issued a statement commenting on the summit.
"Even after years of promises, meetings, and empty apologies, the Vatican cannot do the simplest, cheapest, and most child-friendly action possible: make public decades of secret files on clergy sex offenders and enablers," the statement, which SNAP sent to The Christian Post via email, reads.
SNAP commented that the summit is lead by "the very same 'experts' and church officials who bear responsibility for the continued global cover-up of clergy child sex crimes, including Cardinal William Levada, who covered up criminal reports of child rape and sexual assault when he was archbishop of San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon."
True change and child protection comes through accountability from secular authorities, the organization claims. "Until we have that, we must see Rome's meeting for exactly what it is: cheap window dressing," the statement reads.
SNAP participated in the filing of a lawsuit against top Vatican officials with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in Sept. 2011. The organization has been calling for the church to hand the abuse cases over to civilian courts instead of having the internal, Catholic courts deal with them.
"People need to understand that there's always two crimes involved," a SNAP member told CP in Oct. 2011. "There's the actual sexual assault, violence by the offender. And then there's the cover-up of those crimes by church authorities, and the direct enabling of the continuation of those acts. … The policies and practices that allowed father Leifeld [Isely's alleged abuser] to harm myself and so many other children for such a long period of time are still in place."