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Vatican’s first summit on child sex abuse: What to expect | Pope Francis

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Pope Francis has summoned senior bishops from all over the world to Rome for a landmark meeting on sexual abuse.

From Thursday to Sunday, 190 Catholic leaders, including 10 women, will gather in the Italian capital at the pope’s request; the event marks the first time in history that a pope has called senior bishops to discuss sexual abuse. 

Scandals have struck the Catholic Church for decades, with pressure increasing after journalistic and judicial investigations revealed patterns of sexual abuse and cover-ups.

Further cases in 2018 heightened the crisis – some senior bishops have said the issue puts the very credibility of the Catholic Church at stake. 

What’s the summit about? 

It’s a four-day gathering of about 190 Catholic leaders who will discuss how to resolve the issue of the sexual abuse of minors.

It takes place in the Vatican, in Rome, under the official title of “Protection of Minors in the Church”. 

The Vatican’s press office has described the meeting’s goal as making “absolutely clear” to bishops how to act to prevent and deal with sexual abuse.

For survivors who have been around for 25 years, like me, this is an incredible achievement. Years ago, this was inconceivable.

Peter Isely, survivor

It focuses on sharing best practices in dealing with abuse, educating bishops on the problem, and on bolstering transparency, responsibility and accountability in the Church. It will not, crucially, focus on canon law reform.

The pope has asked those invited to pray for the coming meeting. 

The summit is important for at least three reasons. 

First, although similar meetings have taken place in the past, it is the first time that a pope summons senior bishops for it.

Second, Pope Francis has given more voice to survivors of clerical sexual abuse – he has met some of them and has urged bishops to do the same in their countries before leaving for Rome. Some survivors will also give their testimony at the summit.

Finally, the Vatican has acknowledged that sexual abuse is a global problem in the Church, and not only an issue in some specific countries, as it had previously downplayed it.

Not everyone agrees on the summit’s importance, but most people welcome it as a positive development.

“For survivors who have been around for 25 years, like me, this is an incredible achievement,” says Peter Isely, a survivor, critic of the Vatican and founding member of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) Global. “Years ago, this was inconceivable.”

Why is it happening now?

Two cases, in particular, have shaken the Vatican in 2018.

In the US, the grand jury of the state of Pennsylvania released a report that revealed the sexual abuse and systematic cover-up of more than 1,000 minors over 70 years, implicating some 300 clergymen.

After its release, at least 14 other US states have launched similar investigations, suggesting that more scandals are likely to surface in the next few years.





People hold banners reading ‘Neither lefties nor fools, Osorno suffers, Bishop Barros, accessory after the fact,’ during a protest, as Pope Francis visits Santiago, Chile [File: Carlos Vera/Reuters]

The other incident took place in Chile, where bishops and high prelates have come under pressure for covering up a sexual abuse crisis centred around Fernando Karadima.

While Karadima was sentenced to a “life of prayer and penance” in 2011, his case came back under the spotlight after Pope Francis spoke in support one of the bishops involved in the cover-up, in early 2018.

Realising the mistake, the pope has since apologised and called Chilean bishops to Rome. They offered their resignations en-masse, and five of them have been accepted.

Karadima has since been removed from the priesthood.

If the summit turns out to be more of the same, survivors will keep fighting. It’s a tsunami that no one will stop.

Juan Carlos Cruz, survivor

“I believe the Chilean case was decisive [for calling the summit],” says Paolo Rodari, Vatican analyst for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. “It was a big blow for Pope Francis.

“My impression is that the pope realised that not everyone in the Church grasps the seriousness of the problem,” he says. “It signals that the pope has understood how serious this is.”

Is the Catholic community supportive?

Almost entirely, although some are not convinced.

Some victims, for example, don’t support the summit because it doesn’t promise canon law reform. They have even called it a media bluff.

“For us, this summit is meaningless,” says Francesco Zanardi, a survivor who has campaigned on the issue for nine years. He is the president of Rete L’Abuso, an Italian association of survivors. “We are only going to Rome to protest.” 

Inside the Church though, there is little outspoken opposition. 

“Everybody in the Church is against sexual abuse, that is not the question,” says Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with Religious News Service.

“The question is that there are bishops, predominantly in the Global South, who don’t think it is a problem in their countries.”

He explains that this happens because scandals haven’t struck all countries, so some bishops feel safe. But this often happens because of social stigma on the sexually abused in certain countries, or because survivors are not encouraged to come out – not because abuses haven’t happened.

What can we expect to happen?

Actually not much, at least for now.

While this might lead to concrete results in the future, it’s unlikely to produce ground-breaking new protocols in the short run.

Pope Francis has warned that expectations around the summit must be “deflated”, and Vatican sources have called it a step in a 15-year journey. 

These words have frustrated survivors and activists demanding an immediate end to clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups.

“Expecting a priest who sexually abuses a child and a bishop who covers it up to be removed from the priesthood is not an ‘inflated’ expectation,” says Peter Isely of ECA Global. “It’s a minimum expectation.”

On Monday, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s leading investigator of clerical sexual abuse, confirmed that “this is not going to be a three-day wonder” and stressed the importance of follow-ups on the summit.

What do survivors want? 

Survivors demand zero tolerance – that the Vatican remove from the priesthood not only any priest guilty of sexually abusing a child, but also any bishops and cardinals involved in covering him up and shuffling them to other posts.

Other demands include handing over priest offenders to civil authorities and ending alternative punishment such as sentences to a life of “penance and prayer” or retreat in religious institutions instead of jail.

All survivors pledge to carry on their battle. “We’ve lived with a lot of disappointments,” says Peter Isely of ECA Global. “Expectation is not what drives us.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, who is among the people abused by Karadima in Chile and has also met Pope Francis to discuss the problem, said: “[Bishops who deny the problem] are on borrowed time. If the summit turns out to be more of the same, survivors will keep fighting. It’s a tsunami that no one will stop.” 

Some interviews were translated from Italian.

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Ottawa announces new funding to combat online child abuse

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Ottawa has announced $22 million in funding to fight online child abuse.

Noting that police-reported incidents of child pornography in Canada increased by 288 per cent between 2010 and 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the announcement Tuesday.

It follows a London meeting last week that focused on the exploitation of children between Goodale and his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, collectively known as the Five Eyes intelligence group.

Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were also at the meeting and agreed to a set of rules the members of the group proposed to remove child pornography from the internet quicker.

On Tuesday, Goodale warned internet companies they had to be better, faster and more open when in comes to fighting child abuse on line.

In this Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 photo, detectives use the Cellebrite system to extract information from cellphones at the State Police facility in Hamilton Township, N.J. “Operation Safety Net,” the results of which were announced in December, netted 79 people suspected of exploiting children. (Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press/Canadian Press)

“If human harm is done, if a child is terrorized for the rest of their life because of what happened to them on the internet, if there are other damages and costs, then maybe the platform that made that possible should bear the financial consequences,” Goodale said.

The government plan includes $2.1 million to intensify engagement with digital industry to develop new tools online and support effective operating principles, $4.9 million for research, public engagement, awareness and collaboration with non-governmental organizations and $15.25 million to internet child exploitation units in provincial and municipal police forces across the country.

Goodale said the strategy recognizes that technology is “increasingly facilitating the easy borderless access to vast volumes of abhorrent images.”

That, he said, makes investigations increasingly complex,

“This is a race where the course is always getting longer and more complicated and advancing into brand new areas that hadn’t been anticipated five years ago or a year ago or even a week ago,” Goodale said.

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Gas prices expected to dip in Ottawa

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If you can wait an extra day to fill up the gas tank, your bank account might thank you.

Roger McKnight of Enpro is predicting a five cent dip in gas prices Wednesday night at midnight.

This comes after a four cent drop this past Friday, just ahead of the August long weekend.

McKnight said the reason for the drop, both last week and this week, is due to comments made by US President Donald Trump. 

He says after the drop, the price will be, on average, 118.9 cents/litre in the Ottawa region.

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Oka asks Ottawa to freeze Mohawk land deal, send RCMP to Kanesatake

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The town of Oka is asking the federal and provincial governments to slap a moratorium on a proposed land grant to the local Mohawk community in Kanesatake and to establish an RCMP detachment on the First Nations territory to deal with illegal cannabis sales outlets.

The requests were contained in two resolutions adopted Tuesday night by the Oka town council.

The administration of Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon held its first public meeting since the start of the controversy that pitted the town council against the Kanesatake band council over a decision by a local promoter to give local lands to the Mohawk community.

The three resolutions are addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Quebec Premier François Legault’s government and the Kanesatake band council led by Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon.

As each resolution was read into the record, Quevillon stressed that the town of Oka was only looking to live in peaceful cohabitation with the Mohawk community.

The town also called upon Ottawa to establish a consultation process that would take into account the concerns of residents in Oka and  Kanesatake.

Quevillon’s administration also wants access to the plans detailing what lands are at the centre of negotiations between the federal government and the Mohawk community for purchase, suggesting the talks are simply a disguised form of expropriation.

“They’re giving money to (the Mohawks) to buy our land and annex it to their territory,” Quevillon said.

Despite its demands, the Oka council adopted an official statement addressed to the Kanesatake band council saying the town’s population wanted dialogue and peaceful cohabitation, with Quevillon citing the 300 years of close links between the two communities.

During the council meeting’s question period, some residents suggested that the council deal with other groups that say they are speaking for Kanesatake, including Mohawk traditionalists. Mayor Quevillon replied that the town would only deal with the band council and did so out of respect for Grand Chief Simon.

The mayor also argued that the RCMP, a federal police force, was best suited to be deployed in Kanesatake, where it would ensure the law would be respected, particularly on the issue of illegal cannabis shops.

Quevillon contended such a deployment was the only way for both communities to work together toward their mutual economic development.

Meanwhile, the apology Grand Chief Simon has said he is expecting from Quevillon for remarks he made earlier this summer about the Mohawk community in Kanesatake does not appear to be coming any time soon.

Asked by a resident if he would apologize, Quevillon left the answer to those citizens who attended the meeting, the vast majority of whom replied, “no.”

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