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Pope launches Vatican summit on sex abuse by Catholic clergy

media Pope Francis opens the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis at the Vatican 21 February 2019. Vincenzo PINTO / POOL / AFP

Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church, has opened an unprecedented Vatican summit on sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy. Vatican officials have called the meeting “a powerful and intense experience for all those attending”.

The summit opened with prayers and the video testimonies of five anonymous sex abuse survivors from different continents. Victims recounted their traumatic experiences.

Father Hans Zollner, president of the center for the protection of minors, said the testimonies were “brutal, honest and nothing was spared”.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, top sexual abuse investigator for the Vatican, said the voices they heard were emotional and powerful.

“In order to understand the gravity of the situation, you need to listen to victims, meet them, because that is sacred ground,” said the archbishop.

The pope summoned bishops from all over the world to come together to discuss what has become the most serious crisis and scandal of the Catholic Church, the sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy.

Francis said the Church must “listen to the cry of the little ones seeking justice”.

In his opening statement, the pope told those gathered that the people of God expect “not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken.”

Philippines Cardinal Luis Tagle was the first to address the gathering of some 200 participants in the Vatican’s synod hall. He choked up as he said that “wounds have been inflicted by us, the bishops, on the victims.

“Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution has injured our people, leaving a deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve.”

Archbishop Scicluna, the next to address the gathering said “it is our duty to protect our people and to ensure justice when they are abused”.

“We will protect them at all costs," he said. “The faith community under our care should know that we mean business. They should come to know us as friends of their safety and that of their children and youth.”

Scicluna also made clear that the Church must look carefully at how priests and bishops are chosen.

"The question of screening of future candidates for the priesthood remains of the essence,” he continued, saying that bishops should cooperate with civil law enforcement investigations and announce decisions about predators to their communities.

Victims had the right to compensation from the Church, he added.

During the meeting, Pope Francis handed out a list of 21 points for reflection including possible measures to adopt for the protection of minors, to be discussed by those attending the four-day summit.

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