Pope Francis attends the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, Feb. 22, 2019. (Vatican Media)
Pope Francis attends the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, Feb. 22, 2019. (Vatican Media)

ROME - Accountability was the focus of the second day of a Vatican summit on sexual abuse involving members of the Catholic Church. Cardinals spoke of the need to establish robust laws and structures to ensure accountability and to involve lay experts in the process for transparency.

Cardinals attending the summit spoke of the importance of the “witness, courage and candor of victim survivors” to keep the church’s leadership focused on learning “the seriousness of child abuse, the damage that it has done, the havoc it has wreaked on people’s lives.”

At a briefing following the morning session, American Cardinal Sean O’Malley said there is nothing more urgent for the church to do than come together to address what he said is the most important part of its mission at this moment in history — “the protection of children and to redress the crimes, the suffering, the betrayals that have been inflicted on so many children and vulnerable adults.”

Miguel Hurtado, a survivor of sexual abuse, demons
Miguel Hurtado, a survivor of sexual abuse, demonstrates inside the headquarters of Benedictine Order in Rome, Italy, Feb. 22, 2019 during the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis at the Vatican

In addressing the gathering, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India spoke first of his meeting with a group of victims earlier this week and said it had left a deep impression on him.

"I was numbed and could not speak," he said. "I could sense the anger, frustration, hurt, helplessness and bitterness that they felt."

The cardinal said bishops needed to repent and seek pardon together because they had failed in addressing sexual abuse in the church. He said no bishop could shy away from his responsibility by saying things were different in his part of the world because the problem exists everywhere.

"We are jointly responsible," he said. "All of us in this synod hall this morning are jointly responsible to tackle the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clerics all over the world. We as a body are called to examine ourselves."

Cardinal Blase Cupich from the United States focused on the need to design “specific institutional and legal structures for the purpose of creating genuine accountability in cases related to the misconduct of bishops and religious superiors and their mishandling of cases of child abuse.”

He stressed the importance of involving lay persons and experts in all efforts.

"It is the witness of the laity," he said, "especially mothers and fathers with great love for the church, who have pointed out movingly and forcefully how gravely incompatible the commission, cover-up, and toleration of clergy sexual abuse is with the very meaning and essence of the Church."

Outcome in doubt

Many doubt concrete results will emerge from the summit. Speaking in Rome Tuesday, Anne Barrett Doyle of the group Bishop Accountability said much is at stake with grieving and disillusioned Catholics all over the world as thousands have been sexually abused by clergy for decades. She said the meeting must produce a solution.

The Vatican conference ends Sunday when Pope Francis delivers a speech and holds a Mass with all participants.