April 5, 2019
Dear members of the Papal Summit Committee — Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Cardinal Blase Cupich, Cardinal Oswald Gracias and Fr. Hans Zollner.
During and after the February Summit on Clergy Sex Abuse in Rome, Pope Francis made several public statements about survivors who were present that were disturbing, demeaning and simply false. He has made yet more remarks about us and that is one of the reasons why we are writing to you. In addition, he has taken several actions since then that has us concerned and perplexed because they appear to seriously contradict his Summit promises.
Specifically, we have five areas of concern:
First, on February 20, 2019, during the summit, when 12 survivor/activists were meeting with you at the request of Pope Francis, media outlets, including the following from The Guardian, reported:
Pope Francis has said that those who constantly criticize the Catholic church are “friends of the devil”. Speaking to pilgrims from southern Italy, the pontiff said that defects of the church needed to be denounced so they could be corrected, but that those who condemned “without love” were linked to the devil.
His remarks come as dozens of victims of clerical sexual abuse gathered in Rome ahead of an unprecedented Vatican summit on the issue. In the lead-up to the four-day event, which begins on Thursday and which will be attended by about 180 bishops and cardinals, the victims have criticized the church’s failure to sufficiently address the issue so far.
Peter Isely, spokesperson for Ending Clergy Abuse, an organization that brings together activists from different countries, told reporters on Wednesday that the victims’ group would demand Pope Francis adopt zero tolerance measures for pedophiles.
“There are two points,” Isely said. “Kicking out abusive priests and expelling the bishops and cardinals who covered them up. Resignations are not enough.”
The Guardian further reports that twelve victims (including Isely) met together with the organizing committee of the summit on Wednesday afternoon.
It was clear from several media stories that the Pope was referring to us, the survivors. We find this particularly upsetting since he was making these statements while we were attending a meeting with church leadership at your request; a meeting in which we fully expected Pope Francis to attend. Instead of seeking to understand our perspectives on the important issues of clergy child abuse from those of us who have suffered from it and have tried over the last several decades to help the church address this problem, we later discovered that he was in the Square criticizing us – linking the expression of our concerns to “the devil”. And while he was not there to listen to what we had to say, you were there and you heard us.
During our meeting with you, and for the entire four days of the Summit, our message was clear, passionate, reasonable and consistent: zero tolerance. This was the Pope’s position throughout his papacy. Why would he call us the “devil” for advocating it?
What is now becoming clear is that full zero tolerance, in word and practice, is not the Pope’s position. Is that why he did not want to meet with us? Several actions taken since the summit, including his newly proclaimed Vatican City abuse laws, now reveal that this is the case.
The primary reason why Pope Francis needed to be at our meeting was for him to help us understand why he does not endorse zero tolerance. We asked you during the meeting, several times, to let Pope Francis know we were available for this urgent, if difficult, conversation. Did you communicate this to him? His statements in the Square clearly indicate that he did not understand survivors’ urgent concerns about the lack of zero tolerance in the church and why we need to resolve this issue together now.
Second, On March 31, Spanish journalist Jordi Evole, with the Spanish news outlet La Sexta, asked the Pope about his Feb. 21-24 summit on clerical sexual abuse, and Pope Francis stated about survivors:
“I understand them because one sometimes looks for results that are concrete facts of that moment,” he said. “For example, if I had hung 100 abusive priests in St. Peter Square, it’s a concrete fact, I would have occupied space.”
We were absolutely stunned to hear Pope Francis talk about survivors this way. Does he really believe that it is not the safety of children and accountability of bishops we desire but violence or vengeance? Is that the message you communicated to him from our meeting?
These words by Pope Francis are untrue and must be corrected. They encourage those who are resisting change to dismiss and distrust the words and testimony of survivors, the very words you and the Pope repeatedly claim is your sacred duty to hear. This appears to be a pattern of communication by Pope Francis whenever survivors do not agree with what he is saying or doing to end clergy sex abuse and cover-ups. Making deprecating statements about survivors is damaging. What is helpful is dialogue, responsible speech, and a respectful attitude.
Third, one of our survivors in Rome was Italian survivor, Arturo Borelli. Borelli had personally met with Pope Francis in July 2018 concerning the continual lack of action taken by the church against the priest who sexually assaulted him. Coincidentally and tragically, the meeting was on the same day Borelli’s son was killed in a car accident. Pope Francis assured him that justice would be done. Then on April 4, 2019, Borelli was devastated to learn that his case had been secretly decided and in favor of his abuser.
Borelli’s case dramatically shows how the post-summit process appears to have changed nothing and continues to violate the basic rights of victims and due process, even after the Pope’s much touted “new” anti-abuse laws last week. The process remains encased in secrecy, has no transparency and is entirely run by clerics. Amazingly, Borelli was not even allowed to testify. How does this deliver the justice that Pope Francis promised him? How is it possible for victims to find justice within a system that is structured in such an unjust manner?
Fourth, Pope Francis has refused to laicize high ranking colleagues convicted in courts of law, such as Cardinals Barbarin and Pell, betraying the resolve promised at the Summit.
Fifth, we are concerned that there has been absolutely no follow up from you since our meeting, as we understood there would be and that we fully expected given your expressions of interest, support and appreciation.
What survivors have heard or seen from Pope Francis since the Summit are disrespectful words to us, along with actions that demonstrate a retreat from zero tolerance. Survivors around the world are alarmed zero tolerance appears to no longer be his desire or goal. Zero tolerance is not a “process” as the Pope now qualifies it; it is a decision, a moral decision. We remind you of his words over the years below.
December 28: Pope’s Letter to the Bishops of the World
Pope’s Letter to the People of God
Peter Isely (Spokesperson/ECA Founding Member)
Dr. Denise Buchanan (ECA Founding/Board Member)
Tim Law (President,ECA Founding/Board Member)