Pope calls unprecedented abuse summit

What happened?

Pope Francis has called the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences to a summit in Rome in February to “speak about the prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults”. The announcement came after the Pope held a three-day meeting with his council of cardinal advisers. Among them is Cardinal Seán O’Malley, one of the Church’s most authoritative figures on abuse. The gathering of the 100 or so presidents will take place on February 21-24.

What commentators are saying

Phil Lawler, writing at Catholic Culture.org, said the summons was “unprecedented”, and once might have conveyed a sense of urgency. “Not now,” he wrote, noting it was five years since Francis set up a commission on the protection of children. “Please, not more talk,” he said. “Action!” Many saw the announcement as an attempt to recast the abuse crisis as being solely about the abuse of children. In the US and Europe, said EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, that aspect of the crisis had been largely dealt with. “This latest fall-out is over bishops abusing their power and the abuse of seminarians,” he wrote on Twitter.

John Allen, at Crux, said the summit was possibly Pope Francis’s “highest-stakes gamble”. He had often suggested, he said, that if Francis were seen as complicit on abuse it would end the public’s love affair with him. ‘‘That’s precisely the point we seem to be at: people are asking … if he personally is culpable for covering up abuse.” The way out is for the Vatican to “disclose what it knew, and when it knew it, beginning with the McCarrick case”; and to create “the same strong accountability for the cover-up as for the crime”.

If the summit passes without breakthroughs on these fronts, he wrote, then it would create a “sense of disillusionment from which even Pope Francis might struggle to recover”. Allen said he was unsure if the Vatican could take such significant steps in five months. A three-day meeting is also rather short, he said, especially with bishops’ conference presidents who will resist “prefabricated outcomes”.

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