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Recycled Rhetoric: ‘HailMary’ team reacts to Vatican abuse summit

Change must come from outside Catholic Church: Tim Law, President, ECA

“HailMary” team of Savio Rodrigues and R. Joseph Kennedy, who were invited by Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent clergy abuse survivors and activists to be part of ECA assembly in Rome, Italy (February 17-25) returned to India after a historic week.

For the first time a Summit of approximately 200 of the leading clerics of the Roman Catholic Church representing every corner of the globe were summoned by Pope Francis to Rome (Feb 21-24) to confront the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of children. This Summit would not have occurred without the activism of survivors and their supporters of the previous year.

Also for the first time the largest gathering of clergy abuse survivor activists and human rights activists numbering 30 from ECA (Ending Clergy Abuse) from more than 20 countries and 5 continents and perhaps 70 to 100 additional activists from Italy and worldwide, all came to Rome to pressure the Vatican and Pope Francis to protect our children and provide justice for survivors.

ECA took the lead in organizing many of the various groups including SNAP, Bishop Accountability, Pennsylvania/New York legislators and others to insure each of their voices were heard in this multi- faceted effort.

International Journalists, the Vatican and government officials took notice. In the words of one journalist (Crux) the “survivors stole the show before the curtain even went up”.

Journalists eager to hear from ECA were impressed by their strong messaging. One important journalist paid ECA the complement of writing that the survivors and their supporters presented this week in Rome a ‘sophisticated media campaign”.

ECA’s press conferences, a Twilight Vigil, and the Zero Tolerance March on the Vatican were heard and seen around the world.

The Vatican responded by meeting with ECA’s survivor leaders. On February 20, the eve of the Summit, 12 survivors including 6 from ECA, 2 from SNAP and one from Bishop Accountability, and one from Penn/NY delegation met with Pope Francis’ Summit planning committee of Archbishop Scicluna, Cardinals Cupich and Gracias, and Fr. Hans Zollner. There was hope that Pope Francis would attend but he did not.

“And what we needed to hear – what the whole world needed to hear is that Pope Francis was going to write a ‘motu proprio’ to enact into universal church law, because that’s what counts in the Catholic Church, zero tolerance for priests that have abused any individual is going to be removed from ministry and taken out of the priesthood.” Kennedy said.  

Kennedy also observed, “The conviction of Cardinal Pell and the defrocking of Theodore McCarrick marks an extraordinary moment in the Church. It is time to accept the painful truth about abuse by some in the highest positions in the Christian community.”

“We’ve heard the condemnation, the apologies, but they are all words. Unless he removes a bishop who covered up sexual abuse then it just recycled rhetoric.” he said on Pope’s speech which offered no new solutions.

What was accomplished? Everything.

Tim Law, President ECA Founding Board Member said, “Pope Francis gave us, survivor activists and human rights activists, the gift of a world platform. We were provided a megaphone through the presence of the international press to say to the world that from this week forward do not sexually abuse a child. This child now has a voice. Today that child has the power to speak and he or she will be believed and there will be consequences for the perpetrator.”

He further reiterated, “Because of this Summit victims are empowered to call us and speak up. We are receiving calls from victims from those parts of the world never before heard from. Children everywhere are saved from abuse whenever we speak publicly. This 35 year struggle first coming from the Roman Catholic Church scandal inspired by the likes of Barbara Blaine has saved countless children, provided justice to survivors, and now women and vulnerable adults through #ME TOO movements, etc.”

“Because of this Summit world opinion is changing and no longer does the Vatican control the messaging on this issue,” he said, adding that because of this Summit there is no longer any doubt that sexual abuse by clergy is a worldwide problem.

“The Church in Asia, Africa and Latin America that deny or minimize the problem are on notice that they too must come to grips with this and that their abuses and cover up will soon come to light.” he said.

What was accomplished? Nothing.

Savio Rodrigues pointed out that, “For the sake of victims, survivors and children, Pope Francis should reveal documents, publicly name and defrock sexual abusers and those who participated in the cover-up, not oppose statue of limitation laws from being amended. It would be too far-fetched to think that the Catholic Church, which has historically shown that it cannot self-police, now can create and implement a “we’ve fixed it with a more guidelines plan”. Guidelines have not worked in the past and they will not work now.”

And let’s not forget Satan. On the eve of the summit, the Pope said: “One cannot live an entire life accusing, accusing, accusing the Church. Whose is the office of the accuser? The devil! And those who spend their life accusing, accusing, accusing, are – I will not say children, because the devil does not have any – but friends, cousins, relatives of the devil.” And who are these” friends, cousins and relatives?” Savio questioned.

There was high expectation from ECA and the world that Pope Francis would keep his word of the past 6 years of his papacy and embrace a zero tolerance law or policy for the sexual abuse of a minor by clergy. In the past whenever he spoke on the issue he always said there must be ‘zero tolerance’.  Amazingly these words were never spoken during the Summit. Instead we got ‘21 reflection points’ that were recycled old ideas and provided no concrete actions that any bishop is bound.

ECA responded challenging Pope Francis with 21 Actions that must be taken if this worldwide scourge should end. Key among those actions are a universal zero tolerance law of the Church that mandates that any clergy who sexually abuses a child will be immediately  be removed from ministry and removed from the priesthood and any bishop or church leader who covers up the abuse of clergy will be immediately removed from leadership and removed from the priesthood. Pope Francis as Supreme Pontiff of the Church could have written this into law that week.

Another key action is calling for the Vatican to comply with the 2014 recommendations of the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child as they relate to the protection of children.

In the end the Summit and Pope Francis issued only policies, a wish list, that no bishop is bound. The Summit was a failure on this score.

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