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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

Abuse survivors describe horrors to world's top Catholic bishops

The summit held by the Vatican is the first to address the grievances of the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests

A handout picture provided by the Vatican Media shows shows Pope Francis attending the opening session of a global child protection summit for reflections on the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church, at the Vatican. EPA
A handout picture provided by the Vatican Media shows shows Pope Francis attending the opening session of a global child protection summit for reflections on the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church, at the Vatican. EPA

Survivors of clerical paedophilia revealed their traumatic experiences to the world's top bishops as the Vatican held a landmark summit on the protection of minors on Thursday.

Pope Francis opened the event saying the world expected "concrete measures" to tackle paedophilia in the Catholic Church.

"The holy people of God looks to us, and expects from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken. We need to be concrete," he said.

"Hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice."

He said the summit, which is the first of its kind, was a moment to "turn this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification."

Abuse survivors who spoke anonymously about their plight shared harrowing testimonies.

A female victim described the horrors of being forced to undergo three abortions after being abused by a priest.

"I still carry pain. My parents still carry pain at the dysfunction, the betrayal, the manipulation that this bad man -- who was our Catholic priest at the time -- wrought upon my family and myself,” she said.

"I would ask the bishops for leadership. Leadership and vision and courage."

An unnamed victim from Latin America accused the church of having betrayed its faith. "You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed -- in some cases -- into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith.”

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle told the assembly that "we humbly and sorrowfully admit that wounds have been inflicted by us bishops on the victims and in fact the entire body of Christ."

"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," he said.

The summit aims to educate 114 top bishops and give them tools to spot and deal with abuse and paedophilia at home.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, one the summit's four organisers, said he hoped the summit will constitute a “turning point."

Activists however say Church laws are in need of fundamental change in order to guarantee that these abuses will not happen again.

"Canon law has to be changed: not tweaked, not modified, but fundamentally changed, so that it stops prioritising the priesthood... over the lives of children, and vulnerable adults who are sexually assaulted by them," Anne Barrett Doyle, who is co-director of a public database named BishopAccountability.org that documents cases of sexual abuse, said.

Some churches in Asia and Africa still deny the problem exists. The Catholic Church in the US has also been recently facing one of the worst crises in its history after the defrocking of former cardinal American Theodore McCarrick last week. He is accused of having sexually abused a teenager 50 years ago.

Updated: February 21, 2019 06:36 PM

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