Pope Francis, ending a landmark conference on sexual abuse of minors by clergy, called on Sunday for an “all-out battle” against a crime he called abominable and that should be “erased from the face of the earth”.
At the end of a Mass in the frescoed Sala Regia of Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, he promised that guidelines used by national bishops conferences to prevent abuse and punish perpetrators will be reviewed and strengthened.
But advocates for victims expressed deep disappointment, saying Francis merely repeated old promises and offered few concrete proposals.
Speaking for more than half an hour, Francis vowed that the Roman Catholic Church would “spare no effort” to bring abusers to justice and will not cover up or underestimate abuse.
Francis dedicated much of the first part of the speech to statistics from the United Nations and other organizations showing that most sexual abuse of children takes place in families.
“We are thus facing a universal problem, tragically present almost everywhere and affecting everyone. Yet we need to be clear, that while gravely affecting our societies as a whole, this evil is in no way less monstrous when it takes place within the Church,” he said.
Anne Barrett-Doyle of the U.S.-based clergy abuse tracking group bishopaccountability.org, called it a “stunning letdown” that did not sufficient address the grief and outrage of the faithful.
“As the world’s Catholics cry out for concrete change, the Pope instead provides tepid promises, all of which we’ve heard before,” she said in a statement.
“Especially distressing was the Pope’s familiar rationalization that abuse happens in all sectors of society ... We needed him to offer a bold and decisive plan. He gave us instead defensive, recycled rhetoric,” she said.
After the conference, the Vatican says it will formulate follow-up measures to make sure all bishops return home knowing how to put anti-abuse procedures into place.
Because the pope read the conferences’ final address, the homily of the Mass that formally ended the gathering of some 200 top Church leaders was delivered by Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, whose words were in many ways more pungent that the pope’s.
“We will not go unpunished,” Coleridge said. “In abuse and its concealment, the powerful (of the Church) show themselves not men of heaven but men of earth ...” he said.
“At times, however, we have seen victims and survivors as the enemy, but we have not loved them, we have not blessed them. In that sense, we have been our own worst enemy,” he said.
On Saturday, a nun and a woman journalist addressed the conference to deliver tough criticism of Church, accusing them of hypocrisy and covering up horrendous crimes against children.