This week, Pope Francis will preside over a global conference at the Vatican addressing sexual abuse perpetrated by the Catholic Church.
Scheduled between Thursday and Sunday, hundreds of Roman Catholic bishops from around the world will gather in Rome for the summit.
Sexual abuse by priests is one of the most serious issues plaguing the Catholic Church in recent history.
The summit comes at the heels of the controversy surrounding former Archbishop and cardinal Theodore McCarrick (88) who was defrocked because of sexual abuse allegations, last Saturday, February 16, 2019.
McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington DC from 2001 and 2006, is one of the most senior clergymen to be defrocked. He is accused of having sexually abused a 16-year-old boy around 55 years ago, while he was Archdiocese of New York.
A review board found the allegations “credible and substantiated.”
In a statement, McCarrick says, “While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people.”
McCarrick has been accused of sexual abuse before this, and Pope Francis allegedly knew of the allegations.
In 2018, Former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., Carlo Maria Viganò, wrote a testimony stating that Pope Francis took no action against McCarrick despite having knowledge of the accusations against him.
He wrote that the pontiff was also aware of recurring rumors in Newark that McCarrick “‘shared his bed with seminarians,’ inviting five at a time to spend the weekend with him at his beach house.”
In a statement, Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Wuerl, confirms that McCarrick confidentially settled other claims of abuse in the Diocese of Metuchen and Archdiocese of Newark that were previously unknown to him.
After Viganò’s explosive letter, the Vatican issued a statement saying the Pope has accepted McCarrick’s resignation and ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry.
The Pope added that McCarrick must also “remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”
On Saturday, Pope Francis finally approved the defrocking and deemed it “definitive”, meaning McCarrick cannot appeal the decision.
Sexual abuse in the Church
The Pope’s decision seems to signal that sexual abuse within the Church will not be tolerated or kept secret. However, the Church has serious amends to make for its murky past.
BBC reports that more than 3,600 children in Germany were assaulted by priests between 1946 and 2014.
In 2002, the Boston Globe investigated and reported a series of stories on the rampant sexual abuse by priests and systematic cover ups by the Archdiocese of Boston. However, in the U.S., abuse perpetrated by members of the Church against minors continues, unaddressed, to this very day.
Even nuns have been sexually assaulted by priests. In the storm of the #MeToo movement, the Pope acknowledged that the clergy had been mistreating nuns to the point of “sexual slavery.”
Can the church make amends now?
At the root of sexual violence lies patriarchal attitude and power imbalances.
The hierarchy of priests, bishops, and other officials, ensures that power dynamics in the Church remain highly skewed against victims of abuse. Moreover, the respect and devotion enjoyed by clergymen makes it difficult for victims to speak out against sexual misconduct and abuse.
Unless the Church addresses how its structure and high-handed members enable systematic sexual abuse to thrive, the summit will seem superficial to many hoping for accountability and transparency.
The Guardian reports that survivors and advocates say the summit must “deliver clear outcomes if it is to begin to restore the church’s damaged credibility on the issue and avoid being seen as a talking shop.”
However, addressing the buzz surrounding the global summit, Pope Francis told reporters, “We need to deflate the expectations.”
Sexual abuse in Indian Catholic churches
Sexual abuse by Catholic priests in India is an important and rampant issue, as well. In Kerala, a nun filed a police complaint against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar for raping her between 2014 and 2016. This is one of the most well-known cases of sexual abuse related to the Catholic church in India.
Scroll reports a slew of assault cases by priests: In 2014, a vicar in Kannur was arrested for molesting a nine-year-old; in 2016, a priest was sentenced for raping a 14-year-old in Thrissur; and in 2017, another vicar from Kannur allegedly raped and impregnated a 16-year-old girl.
While we can be certain that the problem of sexual abuse persists in India, including its churches, we cannot accurately ascertain the scale because the issue is cloaked in silence, shame, and stigma. Victims are also at risk of retaliation from their communities and other church officials for speaking out.
Catholic churches in the country have not made any statements regarding the global summit, says Firstpost.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius