Why the Pope’s Summit on Abuse Disappointed Some Survivors


February 28, 2019

By Ciara Nugent

Pope Francis arrived at the Vatican in 2013 promising “decisive action” on the child sex-abuse crisis that has racked the Catholic Church for at least three decades. Survivors around the world had told of horrific assaults by priests and callous cover-ups by senior clerics; in the U.S. alone, a 2004 church-commissioned report recorded over 10,000 accusations against more than 4,000 priests. Since then, the evidence has only grown. Yet advocates say Francis has offered little to restore the moral authority of the church beyond strong words.

Much then was left riding on the landmark summit the Pope called for Feb. 21–24. Nearly 200 bishops, Cardinals and other senior clerics gathered in the Vatican to hear recorded testimony from survivors, listen to speeches and hold group discussions, all with the aim of getting on the same page. As if to announce a new seriousness of purpose, the church expelled the former Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore E. McCarrick, just days before, on Feb. 16–the first Cardinal to be defrocked over the sexual abuse of minors in modern times. Francis used the summit to call for an “all-out battle” against abuse, and church leaders hailed it as an unprecedented confrontation with the ugliest parts of their organization. “I am convinced that this was a moment of deep transformation,” Father Hans Zollner, one of the church’s top experts on child protection and the summit’s organizer, tells TIME.

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