Vatican outlines next steps to fight sex abuse crisis at conclusion of historic summit

ROME (WLS) -- At the Sunday conclusion of the historic sexual abuse summit convened by Pope Francis, Vatican officials announced "concrete initiatives" generated by the meeting. Summit moderator Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists at the Vatican that bishops assembled here "have heard the voices of the victims of the terrible crimes of sexual abuse against minors committed by the clergy. We sincerely ask them for forgiveness, as we do also of all of our brothers and sisters, for what we did wrong and what we failed to do."

The initiatives outlined today include promises of new anti-abuse discipline rules at the Vatican City State, a guidebook of sorts telling bishops around the world what their responsibilities are regarding abuse, and new task forces to assist parts of the world "that find it difficult to confront the problems and produce initiatives for the protection of minors."

Vatican officials say these are "first steps" in an effort to "abolish every form of violence and abuse against minors."

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The historic sexual abuse summit convened by Pope Francis ended Sunday.

At the summit's concluding mass on Sunday, Pope Francis told Catholic leaders that "no abuse should ever be covered up as it has in the past" and vowed that "even a single case of abuse will be treated with utmost seriousness." The Pope condemned abusive clerics as the "tools of satan".

The Popes words at mass in the Sala Regia of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace mark the end of this historic Summit - where a plan to discipline bishops themselves is also now on the table.

That plan is formulated by Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich. He's calling for layperson involvement in investigating any bishop accused, oversight of bishop investigations by metropolitan archbishops, and Church penalties including the potential of bishops being fired if they're found guilty of abuse or mismanaging abuse cases. The church discipline would be in addition to any outside criminal penalties. Cardinal Cupich's proposal would now go to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as they formulate their plan following this summit.

"I think that we have taken steps this week that have begun to change the minds of a lot of people on this issue," said Cardinal Cupich. "I think that we are bending the arc of history on this. We have a new trajectory going forward and that is more than I had ever hoped for in this moment," he continued.

Still, abuse survivors and activists who've heard this message in Rome are skeptical.

"We desperately needed a plan, concrete reforms," said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director. She continued, "we got instead tired recycled rhetoric, promises we have heard before."

"Good words, change of tone, change of tenor" said abuse survivor James Falusczak. He added, "we need to hear that but most importantly, we need action on that."

The bishop leaders at the summit have personally heard stories from abuse survivors - painful stories that may have great impact.

"I'm hearing people say, especially after hearing the victims, their perception is transformed, their understanding is transformed that even if it's not to the level that we see in other countries, they have a common ownership of this problem," said Cardinal Cupich.

In the mass' homily this morning, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia promised bishops would never turn back from this watershed moment.

"We will do all we can to bring justice and healing to survivors of abuse, we will listen to them, believe them and walk with them," Archbishop Coleridge said. "We will ensure that those who have abused are never again able to offend; we will call to account those who have concealed abuse," he continued.

On Monday, summit organizers including Cardinal Cupich will meet with the Pope to discuss and evaluate what was accomplished this week and where church leaders will go from here.


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