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Pope demands bishops act now to end scourge of sex abuse

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    Pope Francis prays at the opening of a sex abuse prevention summit, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The gathering of church leaders from around the globe is taking place amid intense scrutiny of the Catholic Church’s record after new allegations of abuse and cover-up last year sparked a credibility crisis for the hierarchy. (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)

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    Pope Francis arrives for the opening of a sex abuse prevention summit, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The gathering of church leaders from around the globe is taking place amid intense scrutiny of the Catholic Church’s record after new allegations of abuse and cover-up last year sparked a credibility crisis for the hierarchy. (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)

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    Pope Francis arrives for the opening of a sex abuse prevention summit, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The gathering of church leaders from around the globe is taking place amid intense scrutiny of the Catholic Church’s record after new allegations of abuse and cover-up last year sparked a credibility crisis for the hierarchy. (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)

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    Members of the ECA (Ending of Clergy Abuse) organization and survivors of clergy sex abuse pose for photographers outside St. Peter’s Square, at he Vatican, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. Organizers of Pope Francis’ summit on preventing clergy sex abuse will meet this week with a dozen survivor-activists who have come to Rome to protest the Catholic Church’s response to date and demand an end to decades of cover-up by church leaders. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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    Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz talks to journalists at the end of a meeting with organizers of a summit on preventing sexual abuse, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. A dozen survivors of clergy sexual abuse met with organizers of Pope Francis’ landmark summit on preventing abuse and protecting children. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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    From left, sex abuse survivors Pedro Salinas, Francoise Devoiz, Pietro Zanardi and Peter Isley leave at the end of their meeting with organizers of the summit on preventing sexual abuse at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. A dozen survivors of clergy sexual abuse met with organizers of Pope Francis’ landmark summit on preventing abuse and protecting children. Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who was asked by the Vatican to invite survivors to the meeting, told reporters Wednesday that Francis would not be attending, as had been rumored. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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    Sex abuse survivors and members of the ECA (Ending Clergy Abuse) hold their organization banner as they talk to journalists, as some of their representatives are meeting with organizers of the summit on preventing sexual abuse at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. A dozen survivors of clergy sexual abuse met with organizers of Pope Francis’ landmark summit on preventing abuse and protecting children. Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who was asked by the Vatican to invite survivors to the meeting, told reporters Wednesday that Francis would not be attending, as had been rumored. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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    Sex abuse survivors, Denise Buchanan, left, and Peter Isely, both founding members of the ECA (Ending Clergy Abuse) make their way through a crowd of journalists on the occasion of their meeting with organizers of the summit on preventing sexual abuse at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. A dozen survivors of clergy sexual abuse met with organizers of Pope Francis’ landmark summit on preventing abuse and protecting children. Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who was asked by the Vatican to invite survivors to the meeting, told reporters Wednesday that Francis would not be attending, as had been rumored. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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    Juan Carlos Cruz, second from right, waves to journalists as walks to meet with organizers of the summit on preventing sexual abuse at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. A dozen survivors of clergy sexual abuse met with organizers of Pope Francis’ landmark summit on preventing abuse and protecting children. Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who was asked by the Vatican to invite survivors to the meeting, told reporters Wednesday that Francis would not be attending, as had been rumored. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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    Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) President Tim Lennon from Tucson, AZ, center, and SNAP members Esther Hatfield Miller from Los Angeles, CA, left, and Carol Midboe from Austin, TX, hold pictures as they pose for pictures during interviews with the media in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican during Pope Francis’ general audience, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Organizers of Pope Francis’ summit on preventing clergy sex abuse will meet this week with a dozen survivor-activists who have come to Rome to protest the Catholic Church’s response to date and demand an end to decades of cover-up by church leaders. (AP Photo/Luigi Navarra)

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    Doris Wagner, former nun, survivor, theologian and author, attends the press conference “Voices of Faith, women’s abuse survivors’ group: Overcoming”, at the Foreign Press association in Rome, Tuesday Feb. 19, 2019. Pope Francis is hosting a four-day summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse, a high-stakes meeting designed to impress on Catholic bishops around the world that the problem is global and that there are consequences if they cover it up. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

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    Doris Wagner, former nun, survivor, theologian and author, attends the press conference “Voices of Faith, women’s abuse survivors’ group: Overcoming” at the Foreign Press association in Rome, Tuesday Feb. 19, 2019. At left is Regina Franken-Wendelstorf, researcher, lecturer and former member of the Third Order of the Dominicans. Pope Francis is hosting a four-day summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse, a high-stakes meeting designed to impress on Catholic bishops around the world that the problem is global and that there are consequences if they cover it up. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

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    Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org group, holds up a photo of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Houston-Galveston and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, during a press conference at the foreign press association in Rome, Tuesday Feb. 19, 2019. DiNardo has been accused by victims of downplaying their accusations against Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who was charged in September with four counts of indecency with a child and has been criticized for allowing the Rev. John T. Keller, to celebrate Mass even though later in the day his name appeared on a list released by the church of credibly accused priests. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

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    BishopAccountability.org group director Phil Saviano, left, and co-director Anne Barrett Doyle, attends a press conference at the foreign press association in Rome, Tuesday Feb. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

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    BishopAccountability.org group director Phil Saviano, left, and co-director Anne Barrett Doyle, attend a press conference at the foreign press association in Rome, Tuesday Feb. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

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    Pope Francis greets a Vatican Swiss guard as he arrives for the opening of a sex abuse prevention summit, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The gathering of church leaders from around the globe is taking place amid intense scrutiny of the Catholic Church’s record after new allegations of abuse and cover-up last year sparked a credibility crisis for the hierarchy. (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)

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    Pope Francis goes to greet a Vatican Swiss guard as he arrives for the opening of a sex abuse prevention summit, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The gathering of church leaders from around the globe is taking place amid intense scrutiny of the Catholic Church’s record after new allegations of abuse and cover-up last year sparked a credibility crisis for the hierarchy. (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)

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    Pope Francis prays during the opening of a sex abuse prevention summit, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The gathering of church leaders from around the globe is taking place amid intense scrutiny of the Catholic Church’s record after new allegations of abuse and cover-up last year sparked a credibility crisis for the hierarchy. (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo via AP)

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    Journalists wait outside the Sant’Uffizio gate to the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, before the start of a four-day sex abuse summit called by Pope Francis. The gathering of church leaders from around the globe is taking place amid intense scrutiny of the Catholic Church’s record after new allegations of abuse and cover-up last year sparked a credibility crisis for the hierarchy. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

Published February 21. 2019 06:52AM

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis warned church leaders summoned Thursday to a landmark sex abuse prevention summit that the Catholic faithful are demanding more than just condemnation of the crimes of priests but concrete action to respond to the scandal.

Francis opened the four-day summit by telling the Catholic hierarchy that their own responsibility to deal effectively with priests who rape and molest children weighed on the proceedings.

“Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” and seize the opportunity to “transform this evil into a chance for understanding and purification,” Francis told the 190 leaders of bishops conferences and religious orders.

“The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established,” he warned.

More than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia and 20 years after it hit the U.S., bishops and Catholic officials in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia still either deny that clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or downplay the problem.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, called the summit after himself botching a well-known sex abuse cover-up case in Chile last year. Realizing he had erred, he has vowed to chart a new course and is bringing the rest of the church leadership along with him.

The summit is meant as a tutorial for church leaders to learn the importance of preventing sex abuse in their churches, tending to victims and investigating the crimes when they occur.

In the keynote speech, Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle choked up several times as told the bishops that the wounds the scandal has caused among the faithful recalled the wounds of Christ on the cross. He demanded they longer run in fear or turn a blind eye to the harm caused by clergy sex abuse and their own inaction to halt the problem.

“Faith that would like to close its eyes to peoples’ suffering is just an illusion,” he said.

Abuse survivors have turned out in droves, coming to Rome to demand accountability and transparency from church leaders, saying the time of cover-ups is over.

Phil Saviano, who helped expose the U.S. abuse scandal by priests two decades ago, demanded that the Vatican release the names of abusers and their files.

“Do it to break the code of silence,” he told the organizing committee on the eve of the summit. “Do it out of respect for the victims of these men, and do it to help prevent these creeps from abusing any more children.”

The Vatican isn’t expecting any miracles or even a final document to come out of the summit, and the pope himself has tried to lower expectations.

But organizers say the meeting marks a turning point in the way the Catholic Church has dealt with the problem, with Francis’ own acknowledgment of his mistakes in handling the Chile abuse case a key point of departure.

“Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, yes even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution has injured our people,” Tagle said in his speech. The result, he said, had left a “deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve.”

Before the Vatican summit opened, activists in Poland pulled down a statue of a priest early Thursday after increasing allegations that he sexually abused minors. They said the stunt was to protest the failure of the Polish Catholic Church in resolving the problem of clergy sex abuse.

Video footage showed three men attaching a rope around the statue of the late Monsignor Henryk Jankowski in the northern city of Gdansk and pulling it to the ground in the dark. They then placed children’s underwear in one of the statue’s hands and a white lace church vestment worn by altar boys on the statue’s body.

The private broadcaster TVN24 reported the three men were arrested.

Jankowski, who died in 2010, rose to prominence in the 1980s through his support for the pro-democracy Solidarity movement against Poland’s communist regime. World leaders including President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited his church in recognition of his anti-communist activity.

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More AP coverage of clergy sex abuse at https://www.apnews.com/Sexualabusebyclergy

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