Pope Francis Outlines Key Priorities for February Sex-Abuse Summit

Holy Father said he wants world’s bishops to receive a ‘catechesis’ on the suffering of abuse survivors, understand better the urgent reality of combating sexual abuse.

Pope Francis and Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti aboard the papal plane Jan. 28.
Pope Francis and Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti aboard the papal plane Jan. 28. (photo: Mercedes De La Torre via CNA)

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis said Monday that he sensed “inflated expectation” surrounding the Vatican’s February sex-abuse summit and outlined his specific aims for the meeting.

Speaking on the papal flight returning from Panama, the Pope said he wanted the world’s bishops to receive a “catechesis” on the suffering of abuse survivors and understand better the urgent reality of combating sexual abuse. This understanding, he said, would lead into a penitential liturgy during the February meeting.

“There will be testimonies to help to become aware and then a penitential liturgy to ask forgiveness for the whole Church,” Pope Francis told journalists Jan 28.

The Pope emphasized the importance of bishops meeting with victims of sex abuse to hear their testimonies directly to understand the lasting effects of sexual abuse.

Pope Francis said that he regularly meets with abuse victims. “I remember one ... 40 years without being able to pray. It is terrible; the suffering is terrible,” he said.

Francis also said he sensed many were expecting too much from the three-day meeting being held Feb. 21-24 and that he had a particular vision for what would be achieved: understanding the experience of victims, prayer and the establishment of “protocols” for handling abuse cases worldwide.

“I permit myself to say that I’ve perceived a bit of an inflated expectation. We need to deflate the expectations to these points that I’m saying,” he said. “Because the problem of abuses will continue. It’s a human problem.”

“We, resolving the problem in the Church [and] raising awareness, will help to resolve it in society … but first, we must become aware, have the protocols and move forward,” he said.

Pope Francis said the Vatican invited all of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences and the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches to attend the February summit because his council of cardinal advisers “felt the responsibility to give a ‘catechesis’ ... on this problem to the episcopal conferences.”

Victims of clergy sexual abuse and leaders of men’s and women’s religious orders will also be present at the bishops’ summit, which the Vatican has previously clarified will be “an assembly of pastors, not an academic conference.”

On the papal flight, Pope Francis expressed his desire that the heads of all of the episcopal conferences leave Rome next month with a common understanding of the “protocols” needed to address sexual abuse in their respective countries.

The Pope said that each episcopal conference would make “general programs” detailing the responsibilities of each local Church authority for handling sex-abuse cases, but that these must address a common set of responsibilities.

“That they are protocols that are clear. This is the main thing,” he said.

In his interview on the papal flight, Pope Francis also touched on the formation and sex education of young people with regards to Church teaching.

“We need to give an objective sexual education, that is without ideological colonization,” he said. “If you start by giving sexual education full of ideological colonization, you destroy the person.”

The Pope warned that it is important which teachers or textbooks are chosen for this task in schools. “There are things that mature and things that do harm,” he said.

“Sex as a gift from God must be taught,” Pope Francis said. “The ideal is to start from home, with the parents.”

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