Vatican hosts child abuse summit today
February 07, 2012
Posted by:Jonathan Wheeler
The Catholic Church came together today in Rome for a symposium called "Towards Healing and Renewal". The idea is to tackle the growing scandal of paedophilia within its midst. Hundreds of bishops and leaders of 33 religious orders will take part in the four day meeting - oh and one survivor of abuse, Marie Collins from Ireland. Pope Benedict himself will issue a special blessing, and there will be a church service in which representatives of seven orders will pray for forgiveness for the sins of their members. Sue Cox of Survivors Voice (who I met a couple of weeks ago at the Stop Clergy Sex Abuse forum) is reported to have commented "You don't need a jolly in Rome to learn what the right thing to do is... This is just a PR stunt. It's theatre really. It's no use whatsoever". The symposium takes place behind closed doors. Roberto Mirabile of Italian survivor group La Caramella Buona called for open constructive debate and said that this was another example of the Catholic Church being "too closed in on itself". The Vatican has asked all national conferences of bishops to submit guidelines to combat paedophilia in their dioceses by May 2012, which is certainly a step in the right direction, although there are reported to be "cultural difficulties" and confusion over what constitutes abuse in some quarters. The Church has stressed that this is not just a Western problem, and it appears that further revelations may come from Africa, Asia and Latin America in the future. In the meantime Pope Benedict will launch a child protection centre in Germany. It remains to be seen how effective that will be. Certainly child abuse survivor groups have described current Catholic Church-led child protection measures in this country as lamentable. Apparently in the UK, the Catholic Church's budget for its Child Protection Centre is only about £30,000 a year! That, from one of the wealthiest institutions in the world!
The symposium will be addressed by Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's anti-abuse prosecutor and Cardinal William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the enforcement arm of the Vatican which has co-ordinated efforts against abuse, although some will say not forcefully enough in the past. Bishops have been exhorted to "listen to the suffering" of victims, and certainly Francois-Xavier Dumortier, rector of the Gregorian University which trains 2,000 seminarians to qualify as priests and clergy has welcomed the pope's position which he described as "courageous". "We have a major responsibility to look at this open wound in the Church with open eyes" he said. Well that's all very well. But this is a closed-door conference with only one representative from a survivor group being invited. Doesn't sound very open and transparent to me. And even Marie Collins (who has led the fight against clergy abuse in the Republic of Ireland) was in two minds whether to attend. She said that "despite apologies for the actions of the abusers, there have been few apologies for protection given to them by their superiors". This is why I and my colleagues are calling for a public enquiry in this country to expose the negligence of the church heirarchy in covering up the abuse of the past.