ROME (AP) – Pope Francis on Saturday urged European bishops to listen to survivors of clergy sexual abuse and consider them partners in reform, warning that failure to do so risks the very future of the Catholic Church. .
Francis delivered a video message to the bishops of central and eastern Europe who are meeting in Poland starting Sunday for a four-day child protection conference organized by the bishops’ conference and the Vatican’s advisory commission on child protection.
The location is significant, given that around a dozen current and retired Polish bishops have been sanctioned by the Vatican in recent months for their repeated failures to listen to victims and take steps to punish priests who raped and sexually abused them. .
“Only by confronting the truth of this cruel behavior and humbly seeking forgiveness from victims and survivors, can the church find a way to be considered and trusted once again as a place of welcome and safety for those in need,” Francis said.
He said that the bishops in particular should be the first to listen to the victims, not the last, and should be at their service “seeing them as partners and protagonists of a common future.”
Victims have long said they were treated as enemies of the church when they denounced their abuse, accused of seeking to provoke a scandal or extort money from the hierarchy, though many times they said they simply came forward to prevent a predatory priest from harming them. others. Francis, and Benedict XVI before him, have denounced what they called the hierarchy’s misplaced concern for the Church’s reputation for the needs of the victims.
In the video, Francisco said that the words of pain had to be turned into concrete reform actions to prevent abuse and listen to the victims, saying that “these important discussions really touch the future of the church.”
Francis passed new church legislation to try to hold bishops accountable for covering up abuses, responding to decades of complaints from victims and their advocates that the Vatican turned a blind eye to bishops who failed to protect their flocks.
The Argentine Jesuit himself had a steep learning curve on the subject, after he screwed up a notorious case of abuse and cover-up in Chile. Francis took a 180-degree turn and apologized, summoning the presidents of each national conference of bishops in 2019 to try to sensitize them to the importance of the issue for the credibility of the church.