Roman Catholic leaders are being told the time has come to eliminate church sanctioned safe-havens for clergy accused of sexually abusing children. Psychologists and a victim of a pedophile priest spoke Tuesday at a closed-door, church sponsored symposium calling on the Catholic Church to listen to victims instead of its own priests.
Monsignor Stephen Rossetti told the conference the church could prevent many of concerns related to child sexual abuse cases if it would adopt a victim-first approach. He said that one change would tell pedophile priests, “they have no safe refuge in your society.”The only victim invited to participate in the Rome conference also decried the church's practice of being mostly concerned about clergy accused of sex abuse.
Marie Collins said listening to victims is “one of the most important things” the church could do.
Collins was assaulted by a hospital chaplain in Ireland when she was 13-years-old. She says when she told her story to Dublin's then archbishop, he refused to believe her and told her the incident was her fault.
The four-day symposium is being hosted by Rome's Jesuit-run Gregorian University and includes bishops from 100 countries and representatives of more than 30 religious orders. But many victims' groups have dismissed the conference as a public relations maneuver. They have challenged the Vatican to release the names and files of known child molesters to prove it is serious about rooting out abuse.
Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lombardi said Tuesday the church is treating the sex abuse scandal “very profoundly.” He also said church leaders “have to collaborate with the civil authorities” on abuse cases.
On Monday, Cardinal William Levada said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church office which deals with abuse cases, has received more than 4,000 cases over the past decade.Tuesday, organizers had scheduled a vigil ceremony in Rome's Saint Ignatius church in which several religious orders embroiled in the church's sex abuse scandal will publicly ask forgiveness from abuse survivors.
Pope Benedict has expressed shame and sorrow over abuse allegations that have rocked the church in the past decade. He has called on bishops to come up with common guidelines against pedophiles by May of this year.
Some of the complaints against the Catholic Church date back decades or longer.
A 2009 report by an Irish commission on child abuse said religious authorities sexually, physically and emotionally terrorized thousands of children in reform schools, orphanages and other child care facilities for much of the 20th century. The commission headed by Irish High Court Justice Sean Ryan, said rape and molestation were “endemic” in boys facilities run by the Christian Brothers religious order, and said virtually no one took measures to protect the children.