At a Mass marking the end of an unprecedented Vatican summit, Pope Francis today called for an “all-out battle” against clerical sexual abuse, saying the church needed to take “every necessary measure” to end the scourge.
His remarks were however short on specifics and roundly criticised by victims of abuse, who said the four-day summit amounted to a training seminar that concluded with few concrete steps and raised points that should have been obvious years ago.
Speaking at a gilded and frescoed hall at the Vatican, Francis said abuse should never be “covered up” or tolerated.
The Pontiff’s words, which included general calls for improved national-level guidelines, underscored the looming challenges for an institution that has long acknowledged the seriousness of clerical abuse but struggled to curtail it.
Francis mentioned unspecified “legislation” that the Catholic Church will draw up, and he said it will “spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice” anyone who has committed the “crimes” of abuse.
He did not mention a zero-tolerance policy – a step that advocates have long called for to codify the idea that clerics found guilty of abuse be removed permanently from the priesthood.
After Francis’ speech, the Vatican asserted to creation of new child protection laws for its own city-state – rules that cover the 45ha space along the Tiber River but not the universal church. The Vatican said it would also publish a guidebook for bishops that will help them understand their “duties and tasks”.
But larger questions, including how the church will handle the investigation and discipline of bishops accused of misconduct, remain unresolved.
The Pope had called for the summit while facing abuse-related scandals on multiple continents – stemming from cases that sometimes showed the complicity of church higher-ups in protecting abusers. At the start of the summit on Friday, Francis had called for “concrete and effective measures” to contend with the problem. And though some of the Vatican’s handpicked speakers described their ideas for such measures, it is clear that any follow-through will have to come in the months and years ahead – if at all.
The event organisers have said they will remain in Rome in the coming days to discuss some of the ideas aired at the summit.