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Silence, denial are unacceptable, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY — When presented with an accusation that a priest has sexually abused a child, “whether it’s criminal or malicious complicity and a code of silence or whether it is denial” on a very human level, such reactions are no longer tolerable, said the Vatican’s top investigator of abuse cases.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who handles abuse cases as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was part of a panel of speakers at a news conference Feb. 18. They outlined the Vatican’s plans and hopes for the summit meeting on the protection of minors in the Church.

The meeting Feb. 21-24 was to bring together almost 190 Church leaders: the presidents of national bishops’ conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, superiors of religious orders of men and women, Roman Curia officials and invited experts and guest speakers.

At the news conference Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago said, “The Holy Father wants to make very clear to the bishops around the world, not only those participating, that each one of them has to claim responsibility and ownership for this problem and that there is going to be every effort to close whatever loopholes there are.”

Bishops “are going to be held accountable,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Cupich said he expected the meeting to be “a turning point” in the way the Catholic Church handles allegations across the globe and the way it strengthens child protection policies.

However, like the other speakers, he said it would be unreasonable to expect the meeting to mark a sudden and complete end to the clerical sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

“We are going to do everything possible to make sure people are held responsible, accountable, and there’s going to be transparency, because those three elements will keep children safe,” the cardinal said.

While the summit was not designed to produce a new document, Archbishop Scicluna said a greater awareness of the global reality of the problem and the serious responsibility of every bishop to address it should lead to action around the world.

Participants will share what they learned in Rome with other bishops and religious superiors and begin to take action locally, the archbishop said. “That will need to be audited,” and Pope Francis has asked the meeting’s organizing committee to stay in Rome after the meeting to begin discussing follow-up.

Each of the first three days of the meeting will be devoted to one aspect of the abuse crisis: responsibility, accountability and transparency. Pope Francis and participants will attend a penitential liturgy the evening of Feb. 23 and a Mass Feb. 24, both of which will be livestreamed from the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace.

The summit website, where the liturgies will be streamed, is www.pbc2019.org.

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