He made this promise at the conference which this week assembled Catholic leaders from around the world for a four-day meeting to address the scandal that has tarnished the Church’s reputation in several countries, including Australia, for the past 30 years.
“Faced with the scourge of sexual abuse committed by men of the Church against minors, I wanted to reach out to you,” the Pope said to the nearly 200 participants in his opening remarks. “Listen to the cry of the little ones who are seeking justice,” he asked them.
He said that victims deserve “concrete and efficient measures” and not mere condemnations.
The responses of victims have been mixed in nature, with some feeling cautiously optimistic and others believing it was too little, too late.
“The first enemies are within us,” the pontiff continued, “among us bishops and priests and consecrated persons who have not lived up to our vocation. We have to recognise that the enemy is within.”
Those in attendance viewed a video of five victims sharing personal stories of abuse and cover-up.
One victim, Juan Carlos Cruz, said in the video that when he reported abuse to religious authorities he was treated as a liar and an enemy of the Church.
“You are physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed – in some cases – into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith. What a terrible contradiction,” Juan said.
One Cardinal, Luis Tagle from the Philippines, was in tears as he read a keynote speech acknowledging, “Wounds have been inflicted by us, the bishops, on the victims.”
Pope Francis wrote a list of 21 “reflection points,” which he handed out to attendants. First on the list was that every diocese should have a “practical handbook” on steps to follow when cases come about.
Peter Isley, who was abused by a priest as a boy and now heads the advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse, said, “putting together a handbook after all this time is laughable.”
Most of the 21 points covered are already practiced in countries like the United States.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge is attending this week’s Vatican Summit on the Protection of Minors in his role as President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
Prior to departing for Rome, Archbishop Coleridge recorded a video message on his expectations for the summit.