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Pope's forceful words on sex abuse a start

Stephen Oreilly

THE Pope yesterday concluded the extraordinary summit aimed at preventing clergy sex abuse of children with declarations and pledges which many within the church hope will mean the scandals which have been apparent for decades are finally being recognised and confronted.

Francis listed eight points when addressing 190 bishops and religious superiors. They can be summed up in two main promises: that abusers would be confronted about their crimes and just as importantly that what they had done would no longer be covered up.

Ireland has not escaped the actions of priests, bishops and other clergy who have betrayed the trust placed in them by their congregations. The lives of many, many children have been blighted by the physical, sexual and emotional abuse they suffered at the hands of people who at one time would have had complete trust placed in them.

Just as damaging to the church as the actual abusive actions has been the apparent reluctance to deal effectively with the perpetrators. For many years these people were moved to different parishes, or dioceses, even different countries.

Instead of ending the abuse this approach simply transplanted the problem and placed even more people in danger.

It also arguably led to the breakdown in trust between parishioners and the clergy. Some think this one problem has led to falling attendances all over the world.

Francis faces a daunting, perhaps impossible, task to rebuild the trust between laity and clergy that existed before the evil of child abuse destroyed that relationship.

But the words of Francis are a start. They will have given encouragement to those members of the church who have had their trust eroded by abuse and by its mishandling by the authorities in the past.

There will undoubtedly be difficult decisions ahead for the Pope and his bishops. It would be wonderful if this declaration would put a stop to the abusers. Realistically that is not going to be the case.

But what should happen in future is that the church authorities will deal honestly with complaints, that, as the Pope pledged, victims will take centre stage and that there will be no protection for abusers.

Enough damage has been done to the church by the evil of clerical sex abuse and by the response to it. This declaration by Francis must be translated into action. Not to do so would not be a huge disappointment, it would endanger even further the standing of the church.

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