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A four-day conference begins this week at the Vatican in Rome, where Roman Catholic bishops and the heads of the church’s religious orders are meeting to discuss sex abuse problem that have plagued the church for decades.
The conference, “The Protection of Minors In the Church”, begins on Thursday and will run until February 24. It will be moderated by Father Federico Lombardi, former head of the Press Office of the Holy See. The meeting will involve the Presidents of Bishops’ Conference and will include working groups, testimonies, as well as religious services. Pope Francis will be in attendance.
“The February Meeting on the protection of minors has a concrete purpose: the goal is that all of the Bishops clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors,” Alessandro Gisotti, director ad interim of the Holy See Press Office said in a statement. “Pope Francis knows that a global problem can only be resolved with a global response. The Pope wants it to be an assembly of Pastors, not an academic conference – a meeting characterized by prayer and discernment, a catechetical and working gathering.”
Once the meeting is over, Gisotti said Pope Francis wants the bishops to return to their home countries and take steps to prevent abuse, care for victims, ensure that there are no cover-ups and that all previous cover-ups are revealed, as well as to follow the laws of their countries.
The conference comes amid heightened attention to Catholic Church sex abuse scandals, as dioceses nationwide have been releasing lists of priests facing what the church considers credible accusations of sexual assault against minors and vulnerable adults. The lists began to come out several months after an August 2018 grand jury report highlighted cases involving at least 90 Catholic priests accused of sex abuse in the Pittsburgh area, involving allegations and cover-ups that spanned decades.
That report indicated that the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania covered up abuse involving priests who abused more than 1,000 victims, mostly children, over the course of 70 years. After 90 of those priests were identified, it sparked investigations by the Justice Department and states’ attorneys general nationwide.
Former U.S. Cardinal Defrocked Over Abuse Allegations
The conference, first announced in January, also begins just days after the Vatican issued a statement announcing that it was defrocking former U.S. cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, who was once the archbishop of Washington, D.C., leading the diocese there.
The press release, issued on February 16, indicated that the Congresso of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” The decision was affirmed on February 13 by the Ordinary Session of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 following allegations that arose in September 2017 that he abused a male teenager in the 1970s. However, internal memos and letters have suggested that the Holy See knew about the allegations against him before he was elevated to cardinal in 2001. He led the Archdiocese of Washington until 2006.
It is one of many cases where victims and critics say the Roman Catholic Church acted to cover up allegations of sexual abuse by priests and high-ranking officials, often shuffling them from one diocese to another when allegations arose.
The spotlight on the issue has renewed some efforts to level sex abuse litigation against the Church. Last month, an attorney representing a number of victims announced that the Catholic Church had agreed to settle at least five sexual abuse lawsuits brought against a former priest in New Jersey.