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Pope demands action

Pope Francis opened a landmark sex abuse prevention summit Thursday by warning senior Catholic figures that the faithful are demanding concrete action against predator priests and not just words of condemnation. Victims then told the bishops of the searing emotional pain of their abuse.

Francis opened the four-day summit by telling the Catholic hierarchy that their own responsibility to deal effectively with priests who rape and molest children weighed on the proceedings.

"Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice," and seize the opportunity to "transform this evil into a chance for understanding and purification," Francis told the 190 leaders of bishops conferences and religious orders.

"The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established," he warned.

More than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia and 20 years after it hit the U.S., bishops and Catholic officials in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia still either deny that clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or downplay the problem.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, called the summit after he himself botched a well-known sex abuse coverup case in Chile last year. Realizing he had erred, he has vowed to chart a new course and is bringing the rest of the church leadership along with him.

The summit is meant as a tutorial for church leaders to learn the importance of preventing sex abuse in their churches, tending to victims and investigating the crimes when they occur.

The Vatican's senior sex crimes investigator delivered a step-by-step lesson Thursday on investigating abuse cases, citing the example of Pope Benedict XVI, who turned the Vatican around on the issue two decades ago.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna told bishops they should co-operate with civil law enforcement investigations and announce decisions about predators to their communities once cases have been decided.

He said victims had the right to damages from the church and that bishops should consider using lay experts to help guide them during the sex abuse investigations.

The people of God "should come to know us as friends of their safety and that of their children and youth," he said. "We will protect them at all cost. We will lay down our lives for the flocks entrusted to us."

Finally, Scicluna warned them that it was a "grave sin" to withhold information from the Vatican about candidates for bishops — a reference to the recent scandal of the now-defrocked former American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick. It was apparently an open secret in some church circles that McCarrick slept with young seminarians. He was defrocked last week by Francis after a Vatican trial found credible reports that he abused minors.

In the summit's opening keynote speech, Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle choked up as told the bishops that the wounds they had inflicted on the faithful through their negligence and indifference recalled the wounds of Christ on the cross. He demanded bishops and superiors no longer turn a blind eye to the harm caused by clergy abuse and coverups.

"Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, yes even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution, has injured our people," Tagle said in his speech. The result, he said, had left a "deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve."



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