Tuesday 15 October 2019

'This storm will not pass' - Catholic nun scolds bishops on abuse

  • "Why did we keep silent for so long?" Nigerian nun asks
  • German cardinal says victims' rights "trampled underfoot"
  •  Four-day conference ends on Sunday with pope address
Sister Veronica Openibo speaks during the third day of the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, February 23, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. CTV via REUTERS
Sister Veronica Openibo speaks during the third day of the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, February 23, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. CTV via REUTERS

Philip Pullella

A Catholic nun told bishops on Saturday to acknowledge the church's hypocrisy in its handling of the sexual abuse crisis, and a cardinal admitted case files had been destroyed.

Sister Veronica Openibo, a Nigerian who has worked in Africa, Europe and the United States, spoke with a soft voice but had a strong message for the prelates sitting before her, telling them: "This storm will not pass".

She delivered her talk at the start of the penultimate day of a Vatican summit of some 200 senior Church officials convened by Pope Francis to confront what he has called the scourge of sexual abuse by the clergy.

"We proclaim the Ten Commandments and parade ourselves as being the custodians of moral standards and values and good behaviour in society. Hypocrites at times? Yes! Why did we keep silent for so long?" she said.

People gather during a twilight vigil prayer of the victims of sex abuse near Castle Sant' Angelo, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
People gather during a twilight vigil prayer of the victims of sex abuse near Castle Sant' Angelo, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

She told the pope, sitting near her on the dais, that she admired him because he was "humble enough to change your mind," apologise and take action after he initially defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up abuse. The bishop later resigned.

"How could the clerical Church have kept silent, covering these atrocities? The silence, the carrying of the secrets in the hearts of the perpetrators, the length of the abuses and the constant transfers of perpetrators are unimaginable," she said.

She spoke of her shock when she watched the 2015 Oscar-winning film Spotlight, which uncovered how Church leaders in Boston moved predator priests from parish to parish instead of defrocking them or turning them over to civil authorities.

"At the present time, we are in a state of crisis and shame. We have seriously clouded the grace of the Christ-mission," Openibo said.

"We must acknowledge that our mediocrity, hypocrisy and complacency have brought us to this disgraceful and scandalous place we find ourselves as a Church. We pause to pray, Lord have mercy on us!" she said.

She said Church leaders must shed their habit of hiding events for fear of making a mistake.

"Too often we want to keep silent until the storm has passed. This storm will not pass by. Our credibility is at stake," she said, adding that the Church's male hierarchy should allow more women to be involved in fight against abuse.

German Cardinal Reinhard Marx called for more "traceability and transparency" in dealing with the issue, such as limiting pontifical secrecy in cases of abuse handled by the Vatican, releasing more statistics and publishing judicial procedures.

Bishops attend the opening of the sex abuse prevention summit at the Vatican (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)
Bishops attend the opening of the sex abuse prevention summit at the Vatican (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)

"Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created. Instead of the perpetrators, the victims were regulated and silence imposed on them," Marx, a leading progressive, said.

"The rights of victims were effectively trampled underfoot, and left to the whims of individuals," Marx said.

"The thoughts of some abuse victims can be summarised as follows: If the Church claims to act in the name of Jesus, yet I am treated so badly by the Church or its administration, then I would also like to have nothing to do with this Jesus," he said.

The abuse crisis has made 2018 one of the toughest years for the pope since his election in 2013.

Chile's 34 bishops offered to resign over the scandal, the pope's trip to Ireland exposed decades of abuse in the once staunchly Catholic nation and a grand jury in Pennsylvania revealed priests sexually abused about 1,000 people over seven decades in that U.S. state alone.

Victims, some of whom told painful stories of abuse and cover-up when the conference began on Thursday, rallied in a Rome square before a march to the Vatican to demand change and justice.

The conference ends on Sunday when the pope will make a final speech. The Vatican says it will formulate follow-up measures to make sure all bishop return home knowing how to put anti-abuse procedures into place.

Reuters

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