Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) survivors and activists returned home after an historic week (February 17-25) in Rome.
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 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.
Journalists eager to hear from us were impressed by our strong messaging. One important journalist paid us the compliment of writing that the survivors and their supporters presented this week in Rome a ‘sophisticated media campaign”.
All of our ECA members received tremendous press coverage in their home countries establishing themselves as leaders on this issue. Many said the press wanted to know the time and day of their arrival home from Rome to meet and interview them.
Our 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 our 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.
What was important about this meeting of survivors, unlike others, is that it was agreed beforehand not to talk or dwell about their stories of abuse but only the issues. This set the tone for frank and at times confrontational exchanges that Vatican officials rarely experience.
Although the meeting did not produce concrete results the meeting itself would not have occurred without our activism and it served to introduce our leaders to the Vatican and it allowed us take the measure of their leaders.
US Ambassador to the Vatican, Callista Gingrich, on February 23, met with Peter Isely, Denise Buchanan and me at the American Embassy in Rome. We had a one hour discussion with the Ambassador asking why she is not more engaged on this issue on behalf of the American people. She stated she is engaged and that there have been high level communications with the Vatican. She would not discuss the substance of those talks (we have filed a Freedom of Information Act request for those communications) and incredibly said she supports the efforts of Pope Francis on this issue sounding more like an advocate for the Vatican than for the US. We called her out on this.
But the Ambassador did agree to assist us in engaging with the federal justice department on this issue.
What was accomplished? Nothing.
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 ‘21reflection 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.
What was accomplished? Everything.
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.
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.
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.
Because of this Summit I left Rome energized. Activists now see themselves part of a worldwide movement and that they have allies to call upon for strength and help.
Because of this Summit I am also tempered knowing this is a marathon not a sprint but I am encouraged with the belief that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.
Tim Law (President ECA Founding/Board Member)
Tel: +1206.412.0165 (English)