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Bishops Must Realize Seriousness of Abuse Crisis, Pope Says

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Panama City to Rome, Jan. 27, 2019. Also pictured is Msgr. Mauricio Rueda, papal trip planner. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Junno Arocho Esteves
Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM PANAMA  –  The primary goal of the Vatican’s February summit on clerical sexual abuse and child protection is to help bishops understand the urgency of the crisis, Pope Francis said.

During a news conference with journalists January 27 on his flight to Rome from Panama, the pope said the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences have been called to the February 21-24 meeting at the Vatican to be “made aware of the tragedy” of those abused by members of the clergy.

“I regularly meet with people who have been abused. I remember one person  –  40 years old  –  who was unable to pray,” he said. “It is terrible, the suffering is terrible. So first, they (the bishops) need to be made aware of this.”

The pope’s international Council of Cardinals suggested the summit after realizing that some bishops did not know how to address or handle the crisis on their own, he said.

“We felt the responsibility of giving a ‘catechesis’ on this problem to the bishops’ conferences,” he said. “That is why we convoked the presidents” of the conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches and representatives of the leadership groups of men’s and women’s religious orders.

The meeting, he said, will address “in a clear way” what protocols bishops need to follow when handling sexual abuse.

Asked about the expectations for the meeting, especially the expectations of Catholics who have grown frustrated with the repeated reports of abuse and cover-up by some bishops, the pope said people need to realize “the problem of abuse will continue.”

“It is a human problem, a human problem (that is) everywhere,” he said.

But if the church becomes more aware of the tragedy of sexual abuse, the pope said, it can help others face the crisis of abuse, especially in families “where shame leads to covering up everything.”