On Thursday, senior bishops will descend on the Vatican for an unprecedented summit focused on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The gathering, which Pope Francis announced in September, will attempt to address ways of preventing abuse as well as protecting children, the Vatican said.
It comes on the heels of a historically bad year for the Catholic Church, as reports continue to emerge of clerics committing sexual abuse as members of the institution’s higher echelons looked the other way. Here are some of the revelations that have come out since the start of 2018 that are threatening Francis’s legacy as the summit takes place.
Crimes and coverups in Chile
Francis set a controversial tone for 2018 on a January trip to Chile that was meant to be a kind of apology tour. There, the Argentine pontiff drew criticism after he expressed support for Juan Barros, a Chilean Catholic bishop accused of covering up the acts of abuse of Fernando Karadima, a priest who was Barros’s protege.
“I can’t condemn him because I don’t have evidence,” Francis said of Barros. “But I’m also convinced that he’s innocent.” Francis also warned accusers that they could find themselves guilty of slander if they made such accusations without evidence.
He backtracked in April, saying he lacked “truthful and balanced information” and invited those accusers to the Vatican so he could apologize. Francis also sent investigators to Chile and condemned the “culture of abuse and cover up” within the church, The Post reported.
A high-ranking cardinal resigns
The spotlight returned to allegations of abuse again in June when the church found Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to be credibly accused of sexually assaulting a teenager 50 years ago. After the news broke, many more accusations against the cardinal came out, spanning decades. McCarrick, once the archbishop of Washington who traveled the globe representing the church as well as the United States occasionally, resigned in July, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic clergy member to be removed from his post because of sexual assault.
In August, a prominent former Vatican official claimed that Francis knew about and covered up McCarrick’s deeds, and called on the pope to resign. The pope’s supporters said the letter bore no truth and was aimed at discrediting Francis, but it nevertheless revealed the inner dissatisfaction among some in the Catholic Church with how Francis is handling abuse scandals.
On Feb. 9, as the much-anticipated summit approached, the Vatican announced that it had defrocked McCarrick, completely expelling him from the church in what The Post’s Chico Harlan called “the most significant abuse-related punishment given to a former cardinal in the modern history of the Roman Catholic Church.”
A Pennsylvania grand jury report reveals staggering amounts of abuse
Just a month before Francis announced the summit, a bombshell grand jury report out of Pennsylvania in August dealt another blow to the struggling institution. It found that over seven decades, more than 300 priests in the state had sexually abused at least 1,000 children, and there were many church leaders who knew about such crimes but covered them up.
The findings inspired several other states to launch similar investigations.
Pope Francis acknowledges that nuns have also been victims of abuse
The increase in sexual abuse reports regarding the Catholic Church in the past year breathed fresh life into the calls of nuns around the world who have been trying to draw attention to their own experiences of sexual abuse within the church. Such claims are nothing new, but for the first time, Francis addressed them head on.
On Feb. 4, the pope acknowledged that nuns had also been sexually abused by Catholic Church officials. “It’s true,” Francis said, according to the New York Times. “There are priests and bishops who have done that."
“Should more be done? Yes,” Francis said. “Do we have the will? Yes. But it is a path that we have already begun.”
Those comments weren’t enough for some activists, who have been fighting against the abuse nuns have reportedly endured for decades.
“I’m really angered by the words of the pope just now,” Mary Dispenza, a former nun and advocate for nuns who are victims of sexual abuse, told the Times. “I am angered by the pope not standing up and really speaking out about the tragedy, and actions he will take.”
Reports of the sexual abuse of deaf children
A harrowing report from The Post published Tuesday revealed how priests in Italy and Argentina participated in decades of abuse and coverups in Catholic schools for the deaf. Deaf children were particularly vulnerable because of their inability to communicate what was happening to them, as these centers virtually banned the use of sign language.
According to the report, since victims began speaking out, charges of sexual abuse are pending against 13 suspects, and a 14th pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
But as allegations of abuse traveled to the top levels of the church, little was done in response. In October 2015, some victims traveled to the Vatican and were able to hand Francis a letter with the names of 14 offenders. It’s not clear whether he read the letter, but four months later, the victims received a reply from one of Francis’s close lieutenants, then-Bishop Angelo Becciu.
His holiness “welcomed with lively participation what you wanted to confide in Him,” Becciu wrote.
“He wishes to remind you,” the letter continued, “of what the Holy See has done and keeps on doing with unwavering commitment on clerical sexual abuses, operating in support of the victims’ tragedies and to prevent the sad phenomenon.”
A new report reveals Vatican guidelines for priests who have fathered children
A report Monday published by the New York Times is likely to raise more questions for the church. The Times found that there are guidelines within the Vatican on how to approach the problem of Catholic priests fathering children.
The priesthood is traditionally a celibate role in Catholicism, but, as the Times reports, when one man found out he was the son of a priest at age 28, he started a global network for people with similar experiences. So far, 50,000 users have signed up.
The Times writes that the growing network is prompting some “former clerics and liberals inside the church [to] raise the issue of whether it is time to make the requirement [of celibacy] optional, as it is in other Christian churches.”