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Catholic Sex Abuse Conference Ended Without Concrete Actions, Critics Say

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Following a conference last month intended by the Vatican to address problems with Catholic sex abuse, critics and victims indicate that the Church made too few concrete policy changes or actions.

The four-day conference was held February 21 through 24, ending with Pope Francis offering 21 points of consideration for bishops and other heads of religious orders, which call for the creation of a practical handbook, protocols for handling abuse claims and working with local law enforcement, removing perpetrators from positions of authority, and caring for victims.

Vatican officials say that there will be a new child protection law put in place in Vatican City, and the creation of special task forces throughout the churches to help confront sexual abuse problems. However, many critics of the church, and victims of clergy sexual abuse, say they were hoping for much more, and were upset by comments from the Pope, which appeared to be defensive.

During his closing speech, Pope Francis cited statistics that suggested most abuse was caused by families, husbands of child brides and teachers, placing some of the blame on online pornography, which angered critics.

“The first truth that emerges from the data at hand is that those who perpetrate abuse, that is acts of physical, sexual or emotional violence, are primarily parents, relatives, husbands of child brides, coaches and teachers,” he said in his closing statement. “Research conducted in recent years on the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors also shows that the development of the web and of the communications media have contributed to a significant increase in cases of abuse and acts of violence perpetrated online.”

Pope Francis noted that the Church was a part of those statistics, but that it is more “grave and scandalous” when it occurred in the church because sexual abuse of minors is incompatible with the church’s moral authority and ethical credibility.

Critics said the words were an effort to defend the church’s past practices and that no concrete action came from the conference.

The Pope’s 21 points are to be released in a future Motu proprio; an official edict.

The conference comes amid heightened attention to Catholic sex abuse scandals, as dioceses nationwide have been releasing lists of clergy facing credible accusations of assault against minors and vulnerable adults.

The lists began to come out several months after an August 2018 grand jury report, which highlighted cases involving at least 90 Catholic priests accused of sex abuse in the Pittsburgh area, including 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.

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.

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