HIGHLIGHTS: Vatican's landmark summit on clerical sexual abuse

Erik Tenedero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 25 2019 10:02 PM | Updated as of Feb 25 2019 11:10 PM

Pope Francis presides over a Holy Mass at the Apostolic Palace's Sala Regia to close the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis. CTV via REUTERS

Pope Francis on Sunday closed a four-day summit on clerical sexual abuse, declaring an "all-out battle" against abusers within the Church whom the pontiff called "tools of Satan."  

The unprecedented summit held in the Vatican was attended by 190 bishops from all over the world with testimonies delivered by abuse survivors. 

Here are some of the highlights during the pope's first-of-its kind meeting with the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences:


Drawing inspiration from the gospel where the risen Christ asked Thomas to touch His wounds, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines called on bishops to take a closer look on the "wounds" of the victims of abuse so that healing may begin.  

"How do we as bishops, who have been part of the wounding, now promote healing in this specific context?" Tagle said, addressing the pope and fellow bishops who attended the summit. 

Tagle said bishops must accompany the victims in expressing their "deep hurts" so that healing may begin. On the part of perpetrators, the prelate said the Church must "serve justice, help them to face the truth without rationalization, and at the same time not neglect their inner world, their own wounds." 


Linda Ghisoni, a canon lawyer and a consultor for the Vatican's powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has urged the gathered bishops to re-examine the "pontifical secret" in dealing with the cases of sexual abuse. 

The secret aims to ensure that the cases are being handled in strict confidentiality to protect those who are involved (both the victims and perpetrators). 

But Ghisoni said the secret is more often seen as being used "to hide the problems rather than protect."

"It will also be necessary to refine criteria for a correct communication in a time like ours in which the requirements of transparency must be balanced with those of confidentiality: in fact, unjustified confidentiality, as well as an uncontrolled disclosure, risk generating bad communication and not to render a service to the truth," the canonist added. 


Sister Veronica Openibo speaks during the third day of the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, February 23, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. CTV via REUTERS

One of the questions Nigerian nun Veronica Openibo raised in the gathering of world bishops and the pope was: "why did we keep silent for so long?"

Openibo, member of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, admitted that the clergy and religious are at times hypocrites, parading themselves as custodians of moral standards while not doing enough to address the various abuses perpetuated by its own officials. 

"Let us not hide such events anymore because of the fear of making mistakes. Too often we want to keep silent until the storm has passed! This storm will not pass by," the nun said. 


Cardinal Reinhard Marx speaks during the third day of the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, February 23, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. CTV via REUTERS

German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the president of his country's bishops' conference, revealed in the landmark summit that documents on members of the clergy who are guilty of sexual abuse were either destroyed or never even drawn up to begin with. 

"Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created," the cardinal said. 

Instead of confronting the abusers, it was the victims who were "regulated and silence imposed on them", according to the bishop. 

Marx, who was one of the closest collaborators of Pope Francis, called for a greater transparency to counter the abusers. 


One of the few women who were invited to speak in the summit, journalist Valentina Alazraki has warned the gathered bishops that journalists will be their "worst enemies" if they continue to commit or cover up abuses in the Church. 

"If you do not decide in a radical way to be on the side of the children, mothers, families, civil society, you are right to be afraid of us, because we journalists, who seek the common good, will be your worst enemies," she said. 

Alazraki, a Mexican journalist and is a Vatican correspondent for Televisa, also recalled how reporters were sometimes blamed for the scandals in the Church. 

"I would like you to leave this hall with the conviction that we journalist are neither those who abuse nor those who cover up. Our mission is to assert and defend a right, which is a right to information based on truth in order to obtain justice."

After her address, Alazraki received a standing ovation in the Vatican press room from fellow journalists who were covering the summit. 


A victim of sexual abuse surprised the pope and the bishops when he played his violin after delivering an emotional testimony in a penitential liturgy. 

"Abuse of any kind is the worst humiliation which an individual can experience," the man said before playing a violin piece inside the Sala Regia of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace. 

"The attempts to return with the own true self and participate in the 'previous' world, as it was before the abuse, are just as painful as the abuse itself. One always lives in these two worlds simultaneously. I wish that the perpetrators could understand that they create this split in the victim. For the rest of our lives."


Pope Francis is seen during the third day of the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, February 23, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. CTV via REUTERS

Pope Francis, in conclusion of the four-day summit, vowed again that the Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case of abuse especially of minors. 

"The Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes," the pope said. 

Going forward, the Francis said the Church will concentrate on eight aspects of the crisis: protection of children, impeccable seriousness, genuine purification, formation, strengthening and reviewing guidelines by Episcopal Conferences, accompaniment of those who have been abused, the digital world, and sexual tourism.

"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.”


Former Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi, the moderator of the summit, announced at least three initiatives which will follow the gathering: 

  1. A motu proprio document from the pope, detailing rules and regulates to safeguard minors and vulnerable adults within the Vatican City State;
  2. A rulebook which will be distributed to bishops across the world, "explaining their juridical and pastoral duties and responsibilities with regard to protecting children";
  3. A creation of task force which will assist bishops' conferences that "may lack the necessary resources or expertise to confront the issue of safeguarding minors, and deal with abuse." - with reports from Reuters, Agence France-Presse