Pope to con­vene sum­mit on sex abuse preven­tion

He sum­mons bish­ops as more al­le­ga­tions against clergy emerge.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Tom King­ton King­ton is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

ROME — Alarmed by sex­ual abuse scan­dals across the globe, Pope Fran­cis has sum­moned the heads of ev­ery bish­ops con­fer­ence in the world to a Fe­bru­ary sum­mit to dis­cuss abuse by Ro­man Catholic cler­ics and the pro­tec­tion of chil­dren.

The planned sum­mit marks the first sig­nif­i­cant step the pope has taken in re­sponse to abuse cases in the United States and else­where that have thrown his pa­pacy into cri­sis.

“This is the first meet­ing of its kind in re­cent mem­ory,” said Vat­i­can spokes­woman Paloma Gar­cia Ove­jero on Wed­nes­day af­ter Fran­cis’ top car­di­nal ad­vi­sors an­nounced the con­fer­ence would be held at the Vat­i­can be­tween Feb. 21 and 24.

The sum­mit, which Gar­cia Ove­jero said would bring about 130 bish­ops to Rome, fol­lows a wave of new al­le­ga­tions of priestly abuse and coverups, just as many within the church thought the sex­ual abuse scan­dals that had be­set the church were abat­ing.

Last month a grand jury re­port in Penn­syl­va­nia re­vealed that more than 300 pri­ests had been ac­cused of abus­ing 1,000 chil­dren in the state since 1947, while a church-com­mis­sioned re­port in Ger­many has al­leged 3,677 peo­ple were abused there be­tween 1946 and 2014.

That re­port, leaked to Ger­man me­dia on Wed­nes­day, claims that more than half the vic­tims were 13 or younger, that 1 in 6 cases in­volved rape and that at least 1,670 pri­ests were in­volved.

Pope Fran­cis cas­ti­gated Chilean bish­ops in May over coverups of abuse in Chile and apol­o­gized to Chilean vic­tims whom he ear­lier dis­missed as “left­ies” — left­wing ag­i­ta­tors.

Fran­cis’ about-turn on Chile con­vinced some Vat­i­can watch­ers that he fi­nally un­der­stood the grav­ity of coverups by bish­ops who shunt sex­u­ally abu­sive pri­ests to new dio­ce­ses where they some­times be­came re­peat of­fend­ers.

Fran­cis was chal­lenged on his record again last month by a for­mer U.S. nun­cio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who pub­lished an open let­ter claim­ing he had in­formed the pope in 2013 about sex­ual abuse com­mit­ted by Theodore McCar­rick, the for­mer archbishop of Wash­ing­ton.

McCar­rick con­tin­ued to lead an ac­tive life in the church un­til Fran­cis re­moved him from the Col­lege of Car­di­nals in July af­ter claims emerged that he abused an al­tar boy in the 1970s.

McCar­rick’s check­ered record, as well as re­ports that his pen­chant for sleep­ing with sem­i­nar­i­ans had been cov­ered up by se­nior cler­ics, helped prompt a meet­ing planned for Thurs­day be­tween the pope and a del­e­ga­tion of U.S. prelates led by Car­di­nal Daniel DiNardo, pres­i­dent of the con­fer­ence of U.S. bish­ops, who will be joined by his vice pres­i­dent, Jose Ho­ra­cio Gomez, archbishop of Los An­ge­les.

It will be the first such meet­ing since 2002, when Pope John Paul II sum­moned U.S. car­di­nals to the Vat­i­can to dis­cuss the first wave of sex abuse rev­e­la­tions in the church.

Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl, who suc­ceeded McCar­rick as archbishop of Wash­ing­ton, mean­while said this week that he was also head­ing to Rome to meet with the pope. He has been ac­cused by Vigano of know­ing about McCar­rick’s sex­ual ac­tiv­ity but keep­ing silent, a charge he de­nies.

The Vat­i­can gave no in­di­ca­tion of what Fran­cis hopes to achieve at the Fe­bru­ary sum­mit. In 2011, the Vat­i­can asked bish­ops con­fer­ences to draw up guide­lines for deal­ing with abuse, which many have done.

“If he wanted, Fran­cis could is­sue a law to­mor­row mak­ing it a church-wide obli­ga­tion to re­port all ac­cu­sa­tions to the po­lice, but he hasn’t,” said Emil­iano Fit­ti­paldi, au­thor of “Lus­suria,” or “Lust,” a book about sex abuse in the church.

“To date Fran­cis is any­thing but cred­i­ble on tack­ling abuse,” he said. “Three of the car­di­nals he picked for his ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion ... have been linked to coverups, his com­mis­sion on abuse has achieved noth­ing and he scrapped plans for a tri­bunal to pun­ish bish­ops caught cov­er­ing up.”

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