By Josh Low
Thursday 21 February marks the beginning of the four-day Vatican summit regarding sex abuse, held at the Aula Nuova del Sinodo, which will focus on the themes of responsibility, accountability, and transparency.
Titled “The Protection of Minors in the Church”, the meeting, which concludes on Sunday, will see the Holy Father joined by some 190 Church leaders from across the world, made up of presidents of national bishops’ conferences, heads of Eastern Catholic Churches, Roman Curia officials, and superiors of religious orders.
Featured speakers at the summit include Cardinals Antonio Tagle of the Philippines, Charles Scicluna of Malta, Rubén Salazar Gómez of Colombia, Oswald Gracias of India, Blase Cupich of Chicago and Reinhard Marx of Germany, together with Undersecretary for the Laity of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, Linda Ghisoni, Elected Leader of The Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Sr Veronica Openibo of Nigeria and Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki.
Some 36 Presidents of Episcopal Conferences from Africa will be participating, with 24 from North and South America, 18 from Asia, 32 from Europe, and four from Oceania.
Among the four from Oceania is President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge, who said no other meetings in Rome have stirred interest like this particular one.
“Pope Francis has called together all the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world in a way that’s never happened before,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Bringing together all the presidents has to be a good thing, especially when dealing with something as serious and complex as child abuse and the Church’s appalling response to the horror of it.”
Archbishop Coleridge explained that Pope Francis is saying that child abuse and its concealment isn’t just a crisis in certain parts of the Catholic Church, but a global emergency that needs to be understood and responded to in a global context.
“We’re meeting from Thursday to Sunday; well over 100 bishops from across the Catholic world, plus leaders of religious orders, heads of Vatican agencies and, most importantly, survivors of abuse, whose voice will be heard at the meeting.
“I’ve never listened to survivors in an extraordinary context like this gathering, which will have a power of its own; and I’m bound to hear new things from them and to learn in new ways.
“We’ll listen, we’ll speak, we’ll pray together; and all of that’s important,” he said.
“But what’s more important is that action follows from what happens in Rome. Words are no longer enough.
The Brisbane Archbishop said that the five years of a royal commission which produced a massive report with a parade of recommendations, had been agonising, but has helped the Church in Australia in many ways to understand what happened and what needs to be done.
“Our response to abuse and its concealment began long before the royal commission started its work; but the royal commission provided a mighty impetus for awareness and action.
“It also provides key elements of a road map to the future. In preparation for this meeting, we’ve provided to people in Rome an account of what we have learned, what we have done and what we have still to do.
“But that’s not to say that we can’t learn from the rest of the Catholic Church,” he said.
Archbishop Coleridge added that he hopes the summit will allow for reflection upon cultural changes needed in the Church and how they might be brought about to forge a Church culture that is more accountable and transparent.
“None of that will be easy, because cultural change is the hardest thing of all. But we’ll be there for hard work, not for some Roman vacanza [holiday].
“The meeting will have to be part of a long journey with many steps into the future, and I’ll be keen to see what specific actions are proposed beyond the meeting.
“In addressing abuse and its concealment, we’ve come a long way in [Australia].
“This gathering in Rome will help us see, with the whole Church, where we have been, where we have to go and how we might get there. That’s why this isn’t just another meeting in Rome. It won’t provide a magic bullet, but it really does matter,” he concluded.