News Analysis

The big story of the past seven days: Francis calls for ‘all-out-battle’ against abuse

What happened?

Pope Francis has called for an “all-out battle” against the sexual abuse of children, following a major Vatican meeting on the subject. More than 100 bishops attended the four-day summit.

The Pope began the meeting by promising “concrete, effective measures”. Bishops gave presentations on subjects such as collegiality and “the Church as field hospital”. Francis also issued 21 “reflection points” and said a handbook for bishops’ conferences was forthcoming.

What abuse survivors said

Peter Isley, a spokesman for the campaign group Ending Clergy Abuse, said the summit had failed to put in place “zero tolerance” rules. In an interview with the Guardian, Isley said: “If a priest has been determined [to commit child abuse], they should be removed from ministry. And if bishops have covered things up, they must be removed too.”

Peter Saunders, a former member of the Pope’s commission on abuse, told CNN that he was “bitterly disappointed but not entirely surprised”. The Church seems unable to change, Saunders said.

Marie Collins, another former member of the papal commission, tweeted: “We have heard these commitments to ‘confront abuse’ many times before. When and how is what we need to hear – in detail.”

What vaticanisti said

Nicole Wwinfield of Associated Press said that the summit had not produced a “sweeping new law … announced to punish bishops who cover up abuse”, nor was there a “global reporting” protocol “requiring priestly rapists to be reported to police”.

However, Winfield wrote, something had changed. The summit made clear that bishops must crack down on abuse. It also indicated some concrete changes: the new handbook; “task forces” to give expert help to dioceses; and a re-evaluation of the existing laws on holding bishops accountable.

At Crux, John Allen wrote that the summit had established “a uniform global baseline in terms of the Church’s understanding of clerical abuse, and measured by that admittedly limited standard, it may well have produced the desired result”.