BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge has described the powerful impact of hearing from child sexual abuse survivors during the opening of an historic Vatican summit on child protection.
“I was surprised at the way tears welled up,” Archbishop Coleridge said of the pre-recorded video testimonials from abuse survivors.
They included one made pregnant three times by a priest who started abusing her at age 15, and who beat her and forced her to have abortions.
Archbishop Coleridge was one of five Church leaders selected to address a news conference, attended by international journalists, and said survivors, through their testimonials, spoke very powerfully, briefly and deeply.
“It wasn’t that I haven’t heard these voices before – I have – but I have never heard them in the extraordinary context of this gathering and in the presence of the Pope,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
Pope Francis opened the four-day summit telling nearly 200 leaders Catholic Church leaders from around the world: “We hear the cry of the little ones asking for justice”.
“The holy people of God look to us and expect from us not simple and obvious condemnations, but concrete and effective measures,” Pope Francis said, then presented the assembled Church leaders with 21 “reflection points
At the news conference, the Church’s leading sex crimes investigator Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna said Pope Francis presented a “road map for our discussion” – 21 “reflection points” handed to the assembled Church leaders.
The points included codifying the participation of lay experts in sexual abuse investigations; ensuring priests and bishops found guilty of abuse are dismissed from ministry; preventing the names of accused clerics being published before convictions; and requiring reporting to civil authorities and church superiors.
“Presumption of innocence must also be safeguarded until the guilt of the accused is prove. Therefore, it is necessary to prevent the lists of the accused being published, even by the dioceses, before the preliminary investigation and the definitive condemnation,” the document reads.
Other points set out specific protocols for handling accusations against bishops, screening seminarians, increasing pastoral focus on abuse victims, and greater collaboration with the media to determine the credibility of accusations.
Another raised the minimum age for marriage in the church to 16 from 14 for women.
Archbishop Coleridge said there were other clear messages that challenged Church leaders trying to implement concrete change.
“How to respect episcopal responsibility, but how to set that responsibility within the context of genuine collaboration with the state – because we are living through a time… where there is a serious re-negotiation of the relationship between Church and state. And this is historic,” he said.
Archbishop Coleridge is scheduled to deliver the homily during the final Mass, ahead of Pope Francis’ remarks closing the summit.
Outside the Vatican, victims from the international association ECA (Ending Clerical Abuse) held a vigil, the first of several planned to coincide with the summit.
“My presence here is a cry for help on behalf of African victims who remain silent,” Benjamin Kitobo, who now lives in the United States, said.
Victims have urged Pope Francis to adopt “zero tolerance” measures towards abusive priests and clergy.