The Vatican is currently convening its first summit on an issue that has long plagued the church — sex and child abuse.
But while the Vatican is the seat of Catholic power, the people who follow the faith — and there are nearly 1.3 billion of them — are spread across the world. Here is how some primarily Catholic countries are reacting to the Vatican summit.
Over 80 percent of the population of the Philippines is Catholic, and it has the third-largest population of Catholics in the world. One might therefore think that the Philippine leader is deeply troubled by allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church and takes seriously this summit intended to address them.
However, President Rodrigo Duterte, who is at odds with the church because of its opposition to his violent war on drugs, appeared Wednesday to deride the summit, which he said Pope Francis had to call because of gay priests. Duterte claimed that Rome had deemed 4 of every 5 priests to be gay — a disputed figure. Widely accepted research suggests that sexuality and abuse are not linked, though they have become intertwined in the Catholic Church’s ideological battlefield.
In a twist, the first presentation delivered at the summit was given by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, who admitted that the Catholic Church, in ignoring the problem, had hurt the very people who looked to it for help.
"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, leaving a deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve,” Tagle said.
Nearly 80 percent of Ireland is Catholic (the lowest percentage of the population ever recorded), and Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has been outspoken on the issue of sex and child abuse by priests.
After the summit was announced, Martin said he was “a bit surprised to hear some comments by the organizers saying that this was something that came to public attention in the United States in 2002. The Irish Church had norms in 1996.” Martin met with abuse survivors across the country before the summit.
But Martin is not the only vocal Irishman, and sex and child abuse are not the only issues the church has neglected to deal with.
Vincent Doyle, an Irish activist and child of a priest, met with Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the summit’s organizer. Through his advocacy and self-help group Coping International, Doyle strives to make Catholic leaders acknowledge the toll of the church’s secrecy on priests’ children and their mothers. The statement that Scicluna gave Doyle did not say that priests who have children should leave the priesthood, which is the church’s default position and one Doyle has advocated is not necessarily in the best interest of the child.
Mexico has the second-largest Catholic population in the world, but its president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said this week that he won’t confront the church over sexual abuse allegations.
“If there’s a legal process, we can’t hide it, we’re not going to be accomplices,” he said at a news conference. “But we’re not going to stoke the fire.”
Catholicism plays a major role in Poland. The late Pope John Paul II was Polish, and Catholicism is a part of the country’s identity. But, on Thursday, police in Gdansk shared that a statue of Henryk Jankowski, a priest involved in the Solidarity movement, which overthrew communism in Poland, had been toppled.
Jankowski was accused of sexually abusing minors. He was never convicted of a sexual crime, but he was defrocked in 2005.
While some had argued that it was wrong to have the statue up in public, Slawoj Leszek Glodz, Gdansk’s archbishop, presented attacks on Jankowski as attacks on the church.
Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world. But its new president, Jair Bolsonaro, is fighting with the Vatican, not over ignoring sexual abuse — and Brazil’s bishops have been accused of failing to address the issue, according to website Bishop Accountability — but over the Amazon basin.
The Vatican has called for a synod on Amazon conservation to be held in October. Bolsonaro and his right-wing government are apparently upset. Brazil’s national security adviser Gen. Augusto Heleno reportedly said of the synod, “it’s worrying, and we want to neutralize it.”