Reflections on Vatican sex abuse summit
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - March 3, 2019 - 12:00am

The Vatican sex abuse summit, officially called the “Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church,” was a meeting of leading Cardinals and Bishops convened by Pope Francis. It ran from Feb. 21 to 24 and its supposed goal was to discuss preventing sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy. 

During the last few days, I have been reading different reactions to the results of the summit. The most interesting and perceptive observations, from my personal view, were those written by Crux, an online newspaper that focuses on covering the Catholic Church and other topics concerning life as a Catholic. It also covers events in the Vatican. It was founded by the newspaper, Boston Globe; but, since 2016 is now owned by its editorial staff.

After the summit, there were those who saw reasons for hope; but, there were also those who expressed scepticism. I generally agree with the analysis of Crux that while there was a lot of talk about reform, there was very little in terms of concrete new policies or law. It also seems that there is still division in the Church hierarchy about certain accountability measures such as defrocking as the standard punishment for abuser priests and automatically releasing the names of clergy facing credible accusations of abuse. Here is a summary of four major takeaways of Crux of the results of the summit:

Global Perspective. Prior to the summit, the abuse scandal was a fact of life in the American and Western European world. For this part of the world, the public acknowledgment of the existence of clerical abuse may sound like defusing a bomb after the bomb has exploded. Elsewhere in the world, this has remained as fairly novel and incomprehensible. 

“For Africans, Asians, Eastern Europeans and many Latin Americans, however, such explicit references aren’t standard fare and arguably may have the effect of galvanizing action in places which to date have been mired in denial and neglect.”

It was a Nigerian nun, addressing the summit who stressed that this was not just a Western problem; but, it was a global problem. If Pope Francis called this summit to establish a uniform global understanding and response to clerical abuse, then this was one of the successes of the summit.

Ending with a whimper, not a bang. The Pope’s opening talk was full of expectations saying that the People of God were waiting for “...concrete results“ to combat clerical abuse, not the repetition of “simple and predictable people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful, conceited is our duty to pay close heed to this silent, choked cry.”

Toward the end of the summit Crux observed “...Pope Francis also rolled out the by now familiar argument that child sexual abuse occurs in the family, and that the broader society also needs to get its own house in order.”

Several task forces were organized and guidelines were issued. However, those who were waiting for specific, concrete measures that the Vatican would impose on all bishops in dealing with abuser clergy, were disappointed. Hopefully, the Vatican will start issuing these specific, concrete measures in the near future.

Survivors as protagonists. Survivors of clerical abuse and their advocacy organizations had very active media operations all throughout the summit. According to Crux: “As recently as a decade ago, abuse survivors struggled to get meetings with Vatican potentates and they acquired most of their information about the goings on in Rome from reporters. Now they are often the ones briefing reporters about what’s happening in various Vatican Vatican standards, the mere fact that survivors can even get a hearing is a striking novelty, the significance of which possibly shouldn’t be played down.“

Activist groups unhappy. As the summit ended, the dissatisfaction from survivor and activist groups was universal. They also expressed their dissatisfaction in almost all media. Some were harshly critical even of Pope Francis. An activist group called “Bishop Accountability on Sunday” was not as fiery in its criticism but was also negative in its judgment. Its initial statement was very sarcastic: “The bishops of the world will scrutinize the papal talk, trying to discern if they must change or risk losing their jobs. They will be reassured.”

Their statement continues: “Nothing in either the Pope’s remarks or [a Vatican] list of ‘concrete initiatives’ suggests that complicit church managers will be laicized, fired or demoted. Nothing we heard today suggests that a universal ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy for either abusers or enablers is even being considered...The hope for change shifts back to the secular sphere. Alarmed by the summit’s failure to produce reform, survivors, activists and civil authorities will be galvanized.”

While the current sex abuse scandal has become a part of the current narrative of Catholicism, this is not the first time that the Church has been confronted with serious scandals. In 1049, St. Peter Damiani, urged Pope Leo IX to take strong action against concubinage and homosexuality among the clergy. Around the same time the laity of Milan rose up and called for similar reforms in what was known as the “Pataria Movement.”

During the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation was also the result of abuses by the clergy. During such periods, the result would be moments of reform in the Church. There have been several such moments in Church history. In modern times, the most prominent was the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) which was convened by Pope John XXIII to address relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. It resulted in drastic changes even in the liturgy of the mass. Many of these changes caused division among the Catholic faithful. However, the Pope realized the Church had to face challenges driven by political, social, economic and technological change. 

Throughout these challenging periods, the Catholic Church has always managed to reform and become stronger. One of the miracles is that the infallibility of the Pope as far as dogma is concerned has never been placed in doubt.

Perhaps the new world of today may require the Church to undergo serious reform and even convene the Third Vatican Council.

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on March 16 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) and an adult series session on Creative Nonfiction on March 30 (1:30-4:30 pm) with Susan Lara at Fully Booked BGC.  For details and registration,  email

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