Catholic Church holds abuse summit

Cardinal George Pell convicted of sexual abuse days after the summit ended

Cardinal George Pell, the former top financial adviser to Pope Francis, was convicted of sexual abuse and indecent acts with a child on Feb. 26. Pell is the senior most cleric to be convicted. He could face up to 50 years in prison pending a sentence hearing that began last Wednesday.

The conviction came days after the conclusion of a Vatican summit aimed to address the larger sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.

The summit took place from Feb. 21-24 and included more than 190 members of Church leadership worldwide.

First-year history and professional education double major Megan Gaertner said that while she thinks the investigations and the summit are good steps, they aren’t enough and should have come earlier.

“I’m glad that they’re digging into all of this and trying to figure out the details and who the abusers are, but I just feel like it’s a little too late,” Gaertner said. “Most of this has been going on for decades, and probably, honestly, most of the history of the Church. So it’s good that they’re trying to do something about it, but I just feel like they should have started doing something a long time ago and there’s so much more they could be doing.”

Each of the four days had a theme: responsibility, accountability, transparency and papal priorities. During the summit, participants watched videotaped testimony from abuse victims, listened to speeches from bishops and journalists and offered proposals for action moving forward, among other activities.

On the first day, Pope Francis offered a list of 21 considerations for handling future allegations and instances of sexual abuse.

He characterized the list as a “point of departure,” according to the National Catholic Reporter, saying it was to be used to guide subsequent meetings.

The first item called for a handbook detailing the steps authorities need to take as a case develops. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who works with abuse cases for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that his office was already preparing such a handbook and that it would be available within a few months.

Other items included establishing protocols for allegations against bishops, informing civil and ecclesiastical authorities about allegations and creating more support networks for victims.

Gaertner said she thinks the Church needs to become more involved with secular authorities to better prevent crises, in addition to enacting concrete measures.

“I think they need to enact some kind of legislation,” Gaertner said. “I also think that they need to have a review board that’s not within the Church, like maybe a secular review board, because I feel like there’s a lot of people who are going to be biased and who are not going to do the job they need to do.”

Besides the proposals, one of the more highly discussed moments took place on the third day, when German Cardinal Reinhard Marx admitted that the Church destroyed files that documented acts of abuse. He followed this admission by a call for transparency and “traceability” to help develop cases as allegations occur.

In his concluding remarks, Francis declared an “all-out war” on sexual abuse, stating that the Church would “spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice” the perpetrators. His speech lacked any mention of concrete legislation moving forward, however, which drew criticism from victims’ advocacy groups, including Ending Clergy Abuse and watchdog groups like Bishop Accountability.

The groups specifically criticized Francis for failing to introduce a zero-tolerance policy regarding clerical abuse.

In terms of how to enact change back home, Gaertner said conversations with local priests would be a good start. 

“I think that having a conversation with your local priests or local bishops, have contact with them, just to see what they are doing in their community (would help),” Gaertner said. “I know here, Father Graham has talked about it, so I feel comfortable going to church here on campus, but at home, I don’t know what my home church is doing about it.”

By: Ellen Siefke | Editor-in-Chief