By Tim Harfmann
Pope Francis was front and center on the first day, February 21st, telling nearly 200 top Catholic leaders they’re under a microscope and must act. “The holy people of God look to us and expect from us not simple and discounted condemnations, but concrete and effective measures. We must be concrete,” said the Holy Father. The central theme on day one was knowing the pain of abuse survivors and healing their wounds. “Regarding victims, we need to help them to express their deep hurts and heal from them. Regarding the perpetrators, we need to serve justice,” said Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila, Philippines.
The four-day summit is historic and intended to confront the abuse scandals that have erupted around the world. Out of sight of television cameras and behind closed doors, bishops heard from five people — including a priest — who endured abuse. Father Hans Zollner, a summit organizer, described the experience; “Once you listen with an open mind, open ears and an open heart; you cannot remain as you are. You are transformed.”
Cardinal Tagle addressed the past failures by the Church to listen to survivors. “Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution, has injured our people.”
By gathering the top bishops from every diocese on the globe, Francis is hoping to accomplish more than past attempts to eradicate abuse that were mostly unsuccessful.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s chief prosecutor against abuse, assured Catholics this time the Church is serious; “The faith community under our care should know that we mean business.” Scicluna helped setup the summit and laid out basic steps that must be followed to confront predators; “It is essential that the community be advised that they have the duty and the right to report sexual misconduct to a contact person in a diocese or a religious order.”
After the day’s formal proceedings concluded, the archbishop attended a press conference and talked about meeting the needs of survivors. “We cannot leave the victims without information. We can’t leave them, without knowing how the process has concluded. It is a lack of respect for the victims.”
This summit is, likely, the most important event of the Francis papacy and have a direct impact on his moral authority and his legacy as pontiff.