Pope Francis delivers a speech during the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis at the Vatican, February 21, 2019, in this screen grab. (CTV-ACCESS ALL via REUTERS )
On Thursday, the opening day of a Vatican summit addressing the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy, Pope Francis laid out a 21-point plan to combat the crisis battering the Church in almost all corners of the world.
“We hear the cry of the little ones asking for justice,” Francis said. “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.”
Some of the recommendations Francis listed include informing the civil authorities and higher ecclesiastical authorities about incidents of abuse, protecting and offering support to victims, raising the minimum age for marriage to 16, and setting up protocols to handle various situations.
The Vatican’s top sex-crimes investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, called Francis’s “reflection points” a “road map for our discussion.”
The four-day summit, dubbed “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” has gathered 190 Church leaders from around the world. Francis has said that the summit is designed to determine “how best to protect children, to avoid these tragedies, to bring healing and restoration to the victims, and to improve the training imparted in seminaries.”
“May the Virgin Mary enlighten us as we seek to heal the grave wounds that the scandal of pedophilia has caused, both in the little ones and in believers,” the pope said in his opening speech.
Francis has been excoriated by large swaths of the Church for his tepid response to new, shocking revelations over the past year that thousands of priests abused minors and adult seminarians and that certain Church leaders, including possibly Francis himself, covered up their crimes.
However, in December, Francis ordered abusers to turn themselves in to civil authorities.
“To those who abuse minors I would say this: Convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice,” the pope said in his Christmas address to the Vatican Curia.
The Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) released a statement critical of the new plan, saying that it is not adequate and will likely be ignored.
“We have heard these words before,” SNAP said. “Formalizing these points into policy is meaningless without any willingness to back them up with punishment.”