The lang-awaited and unprecedented Meeting “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” referred to colloquially as the “Vatican Abuse Summit” is underway, gathering Church officials and the heads of the world’s national bishops’ conferences to discuss the global problem of sexual abuse in the Church. Pope Francis called this meeting late last year, in the wake of the US cases of Theodore McCarrick and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, as well as the serious abuse and cover-up scandals in Chile and other nations around the world.

The Vatican has set up a website to chronicle the meeting, as well as to share the talks and speeches given at the meeting. Here is a link to the website.

You can follow excellent reporting on the meeting through Crux, Catholic News Service, The Tablet, or many other news outlets.

Here is an excerpt from the introductory address of Pope Francis to the assembly:

In light of the scourge of sexual abuse perpetrated by ecclesiastics to the great harm of minors, I wanted to consult you, Patriarchs, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and Religious Superiors and Leaders, so that together we might listen to the Holy Spirit and, in docility to his guidance, hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice. In this meeting, we sense the weight of the pastoral and ecclesial responsibility that obliges us to discuss together, in a synodal, frank and in-depth manner, how to confront this evil afflicting the Church and humanity. The holy People of God looks to us, and expects from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken. We need to be concrete.

Some words by keynote speaker Cardinal Luis Tagle:

If we want to be agents of healing let us reject any tendency that is part of worldly thinking that refuses to see and touch the wounds of others, which are Christ´s wounds in the wounded people. Those wounded by abuse and the scandal need us to be strong in faith in this moment. The world needs authentic witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, who draw close to His wounds as the first act of faith. I want to stress: this is an act of faith.

Finally, although is not present in Rome, Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin wrote a striking reflection on the witness of the Church in light of these scandals. I encourage you to read it. Excerpt:

Today the Church grapples with another septic wound, one that has also been compounded by the perennial ignoring of the voices of people who have been wounded and pushed aside by the Church — whether those sexually victimized as children or as adults. In society, we have seen a paradigm shift in the rise of the #MeToo movement. That shift is one from disbelief to belief when it comes to the stories of survivors. The Church’s focus has shifted as well, from the actions of perpetrators to the harm their behaviors — and their enabling — have caused in so many lives. Something has been taken from victims of abuse that the Church can never repay on our own. The void of injustice that looms before us is deep and vast.

This kind of dialogue requires an abundance of courage, because authentically listening has real implications. It is not something we should expect to be easy or pleasant. As with the Christian roots of anti-Semitism, we find ourselves confronted by our blind spots, our prejudices and real carnage. But we have already witnessed the undeniable ways in which listening to the voices of abuse survivors has forever changed our Church. As these changes take hold, we will see that, strangely enough, we have been transformed to a far greater degree into the Church that Pope Francis has challenged us to become.

For instance, we are called to humility. Authentic humility is not a lofty idea or aesthetic choice. It is living with the crushing weight of the knowledge and reality of your failures. We are called to be a merciful Church, and mercy isn’t merely a beautiful, benevolent concept. Authentic mercy is something that, like love, is reflected to others once we ourselves have been shown it. The Church of the future will have little choice but to be humbler and more merciful in its treatment of others, because our only hope is to be shown mercy, by our own people and the rest of the world, for our failures.

Let us all join in prayer for the success of the meeting, for healing and justice for the abused, and for an end to all sexual abuse within the Church and everywhere.

God of endless love,
ever caring, ever strong, always present, always just:
You gave your only Son to save us by the blood of his cross.

Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,
join to your own suffering the pain of all who have been hurt
in body, mind, and spirit by those who betrayed the trust placed in them.

Hear our cries as we agonize
over the harm done to our brothers and sisters.

Breathe wisdom into our prayers,
soothe restless hearts with hope,
steady shaken spirits with faith:

Show us the way to justice and wholeness,
enlightened by truth and enfolded in your mercy.

Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts,
heal your people’s wounds
and transform our brokenness.

Grant us courage and wisdom, humility and grace,
so that we may act with justice
and find peace in you.

We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.


Image: Adobe Stock

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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

Notes on the Vatican abuse summit

11 Responses

  1. Anne Lastman says:

    Hello Mike i think this summit is a good start but i dont believe the end result will be much because the true cause of sexual abuse is not even considered.
    Yes abuse by clergy must be urgently addressed but in 10 years if not before another summit must be called together.
    This abuse is continuing even as we speak/write.
    I believe the way of dealing with this scourge is naive.
    Im sorry but i dont have confidence that much will change except maybe techniques.

  2. Ralph says:

    I hope that the summit sticks to an evidence-based approach when dealing with the abuse crisis. There is too much ideological wrangling on this issue within Catholic circles. Many Catholics are trying to score points for their own favored positions on various issues usually by blaming their personal bugbears for the crisis.

    For example, opponents of clerical celibacy seem to think that the celibacy rule is to blame and getting rid of it will solve the crisis even though there is no evidence that celibacy turns someone into a sex offender. I found a good article on the Psychology Today website that sums up my thoughts on the summit.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      As an unmarried, male, 45-year-old Catholic layperson, when I hear the ending of clerical celibacy continually proposed as an answer to the abuse crisis, I can’t help but think, “The people making this proposal, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, actually seem to think that lifelong celibacy is, by definition, a recipe for making a rapist!” It’s surreal to me. It’s also incredibly insulting to *women* who wish to marry– implying that one of their roles in marriage is to be a receptacle for the sexual lust of their husbands, partially so that they will not go out (supposedly in sexual frustration) and violate people!

      I am male, in my 40s, unmarried, and celibate (though I greatly long for marriage), and I have the ability to control my desires, sexual and otherwise. Celibacy does not logically lead to rape. Ending clerical celibacy to prevent sexual abuse in the Church is a misguided idea.

  3. Ashpenaz says:

    The simple truth is this: gay men become priests because they can’t get married, and straight men don’t become priests because they want to have sex–and marriage, and a family. Therefore, the solution involves the following: 1. Support gay marriage so that gay men have that option. 2. Let priests get married so that straight men can have sex and a family. This will also solve the contraception issue because once we have married priests trying to balance career and family, it will become immediately obvious to everyone that couples need access to birth control to keep families to a manageable size.

    • Anne Lastman says:

      Ashpenaz you do not understand sexual abuse at all. If celibacy was the issue then no other denomination, faithEg Jewish, no organisation, no groups, man-boy love assication and the list contnues.
      Gay marriage or no marriage is not the issue either. Abuse of minors is a whole world of psychological issues. Its easy to blame groups. To have scapegoats. To have someone to pin this on but that wont stop the issue.
      Blaming homosexuals for this problem is unjust. Yes homosexuality is a problem in the church but its not related to child sexual abuse.

  4. L. Daily says:

    Cardinal Tobin’s words invite deep reflection, as does Sr. Veronica’s speech yesterday. As a cradle Catholic who did not experience abuse and was loved and nurtured in a community of faith, holding this tension is exhausting to the point of paralysis. It is as if, after years of processing the discovery that your beloved father abused a younger sibling, you learn that your beloved mother knew all along and even may have enabled it. And each week you join them for Sunday dinner, where nothing is acknowledged. And still you long to help heal your family.

    I don’t think those who entered the church through stylized adult conversions experience the same deep wrenching of the gut. Perhaps they experience instead a personal and intellectual betrayal that causes the lashing out against authority we see online, but not the relational intensity and complexity inherent in cycles of abuse within families.

    What do you do when walking away – finding another ‘better’ family a la Rod Dreher and friends – is just not an option because your DNA is bound with theirs?

    • Ralph says:

      As a fellow cradle Catholic I think I know what you mean. I also did not experience abuse and I grew up in a nurturing faith community. A lot of people are surprised when I talk about how positive my experiences were growing up in the Church and going to Catholic schools. People expect me to have all sorts of horror stories but by and large my experiences were positive.

      However, I understand that that is not the case for many people and abuse did occur as did cover-ups of the abuse. I have had thoughts of leaving the Church for another Christian denomination because of the abuse scandal but the truth is that there is no religious organization that is free from these problems. Abuse, cover-ups and corruption exist in other churches. I would simply be leaving one church of sinners for another. Also, I still believe in the teachings of the Church so I feel like converting to another denomination solely due to the scandals would be like lying to myself. I would be living a lie in my new faith community.

      For those of us who choose to stay in the Church I think the most important thing is to try to understand the nature of the crisis and support reforms to fix the problem. I think that Pope Francis is genuinely trying to deal with the problem and he needs our support hence why I read Where Peter Is and try to defend Pope Francis from those who wish to undermine his papacy.

      • Anne Ladtman says:

        Ralph as a Grief counsellor i have dealt with this issue of sexual abuse of children in family for many years I see clients as adults who have lived a life of self destruction. Self sabotage.
        I firmly believe that what his holiness has begun is really good but not focused the right way.
        He actually should have had there people like me there (I dont mean this with pride).
        The bishops who hear about abuse issue should have heard from leople like me who’ve worked with wounded and helped in good recovery.
        Respectfully psychiatrists live in ivory towers and dont get down to the dirty business. I do.
        Where abuse happens in family the whole family is impacted. Yes mothers usually know. Grandmothers enable etc.
        i havev been so frustrated I tried so hard to get in contact with attenders at this summit but without success. Ive given up I dont believe much will change because the causes for this type of abuse are not dealt with and we will see continued abuse but characteristics of grooming will change. Much much more I have but wont discuss.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      L. Daily,

      I wasn’t raised Catholic. My conversion was an adult one. What keeps me Catholic is a true conviction, that came through serious study and prayer, that the Catholic Church is, indeed, what she claims to be– the Church founded by Christ, with the continuing apostolic teaching authority that He intended. However, this conviction about the Church is not only intellectual, but also emotional, because my relationship with Christ Himself is both intellectual and emotional.

      Therefore, when my trust is been betrayed by leaders in the Church (that I believe Christ founded) who abuse and/or cover up abuse, I experience a deep, wrenching, piercing pain. Sometimes, it is hard to endure, and I have to give it to God. No matter how much it hurts though, there is nowhere else for me to go, unless I abandon Christ Himself, because this is the Church that He founded, and I see nowhere where He has said that His followers could simply leave His Church with His teaching authority, and start their own Church with a man-made teaching authority.

      To be clear, I have a deep love and respect for my Protestant brothers and sisters. Many years ago now, I actually *did* leave the Catholic Church and spent a number of years as a Protestant– but after more study and prayer, and coming to understand that the Church actually was founded by Christ, I had to return. To be very honest, part of me really, really did not *want* to return to the Catholic Church, and doing so caused much serious, ongoing, personal loss (and real gain, too) in my life. Staying Catholic, after my “reversion,” has not always been easy, to say the least, especially in light of the scandals. However, I can’t leave again. I have “been there and done that” as a Protestant, and I know that I can’t go back. Once I came to realize that with all her terrible warts, the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded, there was no way for me to leave, unless I ceased to believe in Christ Himself.

      • Anne Lastman says:

        Christopher the Catholic Church is the one founded by Christ himself with Peter as its first rock. This is why attacks against it so concerted. It’s to go awayband hard to stay but we wouldn’t leave our Mum when shes in pain would we?

      • Christopher Lake says:

        Amen, Anne! I agree on all counts!

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