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PAEDOPHILIA

World bishops head to Vatican for sex abuse summit

Pope Francis gathers bishops from around the world at the Vatican this week for a hotly-awaited summit on tackling the wave of child sex abuse scandals assailing the Catholic Church.

World bishops head to Vatican for sex abuse summit
One of the conference's organisers is Jesuit priest Hans Zollner. Photo: Andreas Solaro/ AFP

The heads of around 100 bishops' conferences from every continent will convene from Thursday to Sunday for the meeting, with victims' groups demanding that a concrete action plan on fighting paedophilia be drawn up.

The pope, who asked the bishops to speak to victims of abuse in their respective countries before the Rome convention, has tried to dial down “inflated expectations” for a cure-all.

The conference aims to be an opportunity to improve awareness of the global phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, despite many in Africa, Asia and the Middle East being in denial of what they call “a Western problem”.

In many parts of the world, discussing violence towards children and even sex is taboo, leading the Vatican to organize this week's “educational” gathering.

Some abuse victims, particularly from countries where their plight is ignored, have also been invited to attend.

“Someone who has met a victim, heard their cries for help, their tears, their psychological and physical wounds, can't remain the same,” said German Jesuit priest Hans Zollner, a psychologist who travels the world educating priests and is one of the conference's organizers.

“The Catholic Church has been faced with this problem for the last 35 years,” he said, hailing rigorous preventative measures taken in Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland and the United States.

“It works: the number of new accusations of sexual assault in all these countries is now minimal,” he said.

The aim is for the heads of the world's episcopal conferences to achieve “a feeling of collective responsibility” said Father Federico Lombardi, who will be leading debates during the conference.

“The credibility of the Church is at stake,” he said.



 'A decisive moment'

 

The summit comes after Pope Francis defrocked a former cardinal — American Theodore McCarrick — over accusations he sexually abused a teenager 50 years ago. McCarrick, 88, who resigned from the Vatican's College of Cardinals in July, is the first cardinal ever to be defrocked for sex abuse.

Chilean Vatican expert Luis Badilla said the meeting would be a “decisive moment for the pontificate”.

“We want this meeting to result in concrete measures,” he said, echoing victims' hopes for the conference, being held in the wake of paedophile scandals that have shaken the Church particularly in Chile and in the United States. 

The summit's title, concerning “the protection of minors”, avoids using the words “sex” or “paedophilia”, noted Badilla.

That reflects the Church's centuries-old instinct to protect its image, he said. But added “the only way to emerge from the crisis is to tell the whole truth”.

In France, prosecutors said on Friday they were investigating a sexual assault complaint made against the Vatican's envoy to Paris, 74-year-old Luigi Ventura. He is accused of molesting an official at the Paris mayor's office, a judicial source told AFP.

The pope has already warned those hoping the four-day meet will be a panacea that “the problem of abuse will continue”.

“By resolving the problem within the Church, through becoming aware, we will contribute to resolving it within society, within families, where the shame means everything is hidden,” Francis said.

The meeting will come up with “protocols for moving forward”, because “sometimes bishops don't know what to do,” he said.   

Father Zollner is also wary of people hoping for a magic wand of “new norms” that will make the problem simply disappear.

Bishops must “change their attitude”, which can be more difficult than drawing up new rules or guidelines, he said.

The scale of the problem is impossible to measure statistically. A study in the United States said that between three and four percent of the clergy were involved in abuse before 2002, when stricter guidelines were published, said Zollner.

While the Catholic Church says it is trying to address the problem, other churches are also affected.

In the United States, the Protestant Southern Baptist Convention has been hit by a wide-ranging sex abuse scandal involving almost 400 pastors, volunteers and teachers over two decades.

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HEALTH

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy’s Easter Sunday message

Pope Francis proclaimed vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic in his Easter Sunday address and urged their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries.

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy's Easter Sunday message
Pope Francis delivers his Urbi et Orbi Blessing, after celebrating Easter Mass on April 04, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the Pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable – the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines, “especially in the poorest countries”.

READ ALSO: Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.

The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased. He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, after the Pope’s Easter Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth – “committed to supporting democracy” – called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4th marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.

An Easter message in Lockdown before a key month in Italy

The Pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.

The whole of Italy, the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus, has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What can you do this Easter in lockdown Italy?

Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March – although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.

April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Three regions, including that of Veneto, which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zone to “orange”.

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