Clergy sexual abuse victims pressed to meet Pope Francis on Feb. 20 in a bid to push the Catholic church to employ a zero-tolerance policy that would include the dismissal of bishops who covered up such crimes.
One day before a planned summit by Francis to discuss how to combat the global sexual abuse crisis, 12 victims met up with five Vatican officials to talk through ways to combat the problem in a meeting that lasted over two hours.
The Roman Catholic church has been exposed for systematically covering up allegations of sexual abuse spanning decades long. Each one of the abuse survivors said they were disappointed the pope was not there. Francis was not scheduled to attend.
“We need to have a discussion with the man who makes the rules and has the power in this institution, and that’s Pope Francis,” said Peter Isely, an American from Milwaukee who was abused by a priest when he was a boy.
Isely said the discussion had become “a little bit confrontational, a little heated at times but polite.”
In the United States, abuse scandals have continued to rock the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican on Feb. 16 dismissed former U.S. Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick from the Roman Catholic priesthood after he was found guilty in a canonical process of sexual abuse against both minors and adults.
The ruling against McCarrick—one of the most prominent figures in the U.S. Catholic Church—was made final by Pope Francis, following an appeal by McCarrick.
Such scandals have also rocked Chile, Australia, Ireland, and more. In the United States alone, billions of dollars have been paid in settlements.
“We made our demands for zero tolerance. We want the pope to write into universal law: zero tolerance for the cover-up of sex crimes. They can do it right now,” Isely told reporters after the meeting with the officials, all who are clerics.
The summit, which will last four days from Feb. 21 to Feb. 24, brings together presidents of national Roman Catholic bishops conferences, Vatican officials, experts, and heads of male and female religious orders. The church is still struggling to enact a concerted, coordinated, and global effort to tackle the crisis.
The group of victims said bishops should be dismissed from the priesthood, like McCarrick, if they have found to have covered up abuse—the same punishment as those who committed the abuse itself.
Phil Saviano, whose story of the abuse by a priest when he was 12-years-old in Massachusetts was told in the 2015 Oscar-winning film “Spotlight”, said he demanded that the Vatican turn over documents on molesting priests, past or present.
“It would be a wonderful sign of transparency and maybe some people who are bailing out of the Catholic Church, especially in the United States, may take it as a sign that maybe things are going to get better,” Saviano said.
In the United States, nearly two dozen local, state, or federal investigations, criminal and civil, have been launched into the Roman Catholic Church over child sexual abuse allegations. Over half of the 187 Roman Catholic dioceses across the country have also started investigating these claims or have announced plans to do so.
Reuters contributed to this report