Pope Francis opened the highly anticipated global summit on Catholic clergy sexual abuse February 21 by telling the hundreds of bishops he had called to Rome for the encounter that people expect them to consider “concrete and effective measures” to confront what he termed the “evil” of abuse.
In brief remarks beginning his four-day meeting on child protection with the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences, the pontiff said he had not brought them together so they could issue “simple and predictable condemnations.”
Francis told the 190 cardinals, bishops and heads of religious orders taking part in the first of its kind summit that they were coming together to “listen to the cry of the little ones who ask for justice.”
“What falls on our meeting is the weight of pastoral and ecclesial responsibility that obliges us to discuss together, in a synodal, sincere and deep manner, how to confront this evil that afflicts the church,” said the pope.
Francis spoke for only about two minutes at the start of the summit February 21, before ceding the floor in the Vatican’s Synod Hall to five video testimonies from abuse survivors. The pontiff is not expected to speak again publicly until the meeting closes Feb. 24.
Each day of the first three days of the summit is focusing on a different theme, starting with responsibility, following with accountability, and then ending with transparency. Each day begins with a prayer service and includes three presentations, and then time for working in small language groups.
Francis’ summit has been the subject of high expectations following renewed focus throughout 2018 on the decades-long clergy abuse crisis. The pope and Vatican officials have sought to downplay the expectations for the event, pointing to its brevity.
Summit organizers met for more than two hours Feb. 20 with 12 abuse survivors, including Phil Saviano, who was crucial to the extensive reporting in 2002 on the scandals in Boston.
Speaking to journalists after the encounter, Saviano characterized the summit as one of many milestones he had experienced since coming forward as a survivor.
“I think there’s progress,” he said. “I do think it is a milestone. I hope that I’m not going to be really disappointed six months from now.”