ROME – Last week the organizing committee of February’s high-stakes anti-abuse summit met to outline the schedule of the gathering, which will include both a penitential liturgy, and testimonies from survivors themselves.
On Jan. 10 the four-member organizing committee of the Feb. 21-24 anti-abuse summit met at the Vatican to define the schedule of the meeting, which will include plenary sessions, working groups and time for communal prayer while listening to the personal testimonies of abuse survivors.
Though no formal schedule has yet been released, there will also be a penitential liturgy during the 3-day gathering, which will conclude with Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.
According to a Jan. 16 Vatican communique, Francis, who met with the committee after their planning session, assured that he would be present for the entirety of the summit. He has tapped former Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi as moderator for the plenary sessions.
Called by Francis to address the current global clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, the summit will draw some 180 people from around the world, including the presidents of every episcopal conference worldwide, abuse survivors and superiors of religious communities.
The four-person organizing committee, personally selected by Francis, includes Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago; Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, adjunct secretary for the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who once served as the Vatican’s leading prosecutor on child abuse and who has played an instrumental role in cleaning up the abuse scandals in Chile; Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and head of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University; and Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, who also serves on Francis’s council of cardinal advisors.
Dr. Gabriella Gambino, undersecretary for the life section of the Vatican department for Laity, Family and Life, and Dr. Linda Ghisoni, undersecretary for the lay section of the same department, are also helping in the preparation work along with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.
Though he is not part of the formal organizing team for the meeting, which will focus primarily on responsibility, accountability, and transparency, O’Malley has previously said he will be present for the gathering, and he is expected to play a key role in the preparatory process.
In December organizers of the summit urged the heads of bishops’ conferences to prepare for the gathering by meeting with survivors personally to understand the extent of the harm caused by abuse.
In a letter published Dec. 18, the four-member organizing team said that without a comprehensive response to the clerical abuse crisis, “not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world.”
A first step to addressing the crisis, the letter said, is to recognize “the truth of what has happened,” part of which means meeting with survivors in order “to learn first-hand the suffering that they have endured.”
In a Jan. 16 statement, Alessandro Gisotti, the interim director of the Holy See Press Office, said the February summit’s primary goal is for all bishops to “clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors.”
Francis, he said, “knows that a global problem can only be resolved with a global response,” and wants the meeting to be one among pastors with prayer and study, “not an academic conference.”
A fundamental goal for the pope, Gisotti said, is that all bishops who attend the meeting will go back to their dioceses with a greater understanding of the laws that need to be applied, and that they will take “the necessary steps to prevent abuse, to care for the victims, and to make sure that no case is covered up or buried.”
“Regarding the high expectations that have been created around the Meeting, it is important to emphasize that the Church is not at the beginning of the fight against abuse,” he said, noting that the summit is one step on the “painful journey” the Church has been on for the past 15 years.