ROME – As leaders of bishops’ conferences from around the world meet with clergy abuse victims ahead of a late February summit on the protection of minors, the Catholic online news site Aleteia and an Italian non-profit network in the fight against sexual abuse have combined forces to bring victims’ testimonies to the fore.
“Only by listening to the voice of the victims can we understand,” said Father Fortunato Di Noto, founder of the anti-abuse network Meter Onlus, speaking to Vatican News Feb. 7.
“Pastors, priests, ecclesial communities – and, I would add, those of civil society – can finally place themselves in a very humble, respectful state and above all develop a conscience aware that one cannot heal from abuse, but one can live with it: It can be overcome with various friendly actions,” he added.
Pope Francis has called for a global gathering of leading bishops at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 to address the protection of minors within the Catholic Church. Before the summit, the pope encouraged bishops’ conferences to meet with victims and issue guidelines for the protection of minors in their own countries.
Aleteia will be publishing six testimonies from victims of different backgrounds. The first, already available on the site, is written by a religious sister sexually abused by her uncle at the age of nine and who today has consecrated her life to pray for the conversion of pedophiles.
“I was nine years old when he abused me. Now I am a nun for over 25 years, consecrated,” she said.
Detailing the experiences of her early life and how they resurfaced many years later in a confessional, the sister describes how the help of priests, religious sisters and God helped her regain her faith and vocation.
“Because the cross must never be the last word, with the Lord we are called to resurrection,” she wrote. “For us victims of pedophilia, like the Lord, we were given the grace of being on the cross as innocents to atone for the sins of the brutes.”
Global media attention will be locked on the Vatican in a few weeks, after sexual abuse scandals regarding high-ranking church officials have rocked the Catholic institution and drained its credibility.
Di Noto is confident that the summit will be a “historical event,” while urging observers to keep in mind that “the Church is not a multinational corporation [making] pedophile products” and instead generates numerous experiences of being close to the poor and disenfranchised.
The sexual abuse summit “won’t solve the problem a hundred percent, that is sure,” the priest explained. “The problem of pedophilia in the Church and in society will not be eradicated, because it’s a widespread, global and endemic phenomenon.”
Meter knows a thing or two about the sexual abuse of minors around the globe, having been at the forefront of the battle for the past 30 years. In the past 12 years they have proved essential in over 23 national and international police investigations, led to over 300 arrests and signaled concerns regarding more than 23,000 religious and lay people accused of abusing minors.
Di Noto has emphasized that the Church’s goal must not be to become experts in pedophilia, but experts in humanity by listening and being close to victims.
“We have to repeat that it’s no longer tolerable that these abominations take place in the Church,” he said. “By listening to victims we can deduce smart paths of hope, of condemnation, and also new and innovative trajectories.”
According to the priest, the summit represents an opportunity to recharge and bring forth a “radical reform,” that cannot and must not be limited to the ecclesial structures but include “the listening of children, of the smallest.”
Di Noto also voiced the deep trust and admiration that at least some abuse victims have toward Francis and his pontificate.
“For them the Holy Father can become, and is, truly a luminous beacon of tenderness, welcoming, but also determined, to eradicate this evil,” he said.
“Pope Francis points us the way.”