CATHOLIC cardinals from around the world will hold an unprecedented meeting in the Vatican tomorrow to discuss sex abuse by priests, as activists call for tougher action against offenders.
“The Church’s response to sexual abuse cases” will be one of the themes at the meeting to be led by a US cardinal following an invitation from Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican said in a statement ahead of the closed-door talks.
It will be the first time the cardinals meet to discuss the issue. Around 105 of the world’s 203 cardinals – who have a key role in the Roman Catholic Church because they vote on new popes – are expected to take part.
The publication in Ireland last year of a shocking report that documented hundreds of cases of child abuse by priests and systematic cover-up efforts by senior clergy has plunged the church into its worst crisis in many years.
The revelations have been succeeded by a number of scandals across the United States and Europe, including in Germany – the pope’s homeland.
Benedict has condemned the crimes with growing intensity, has met with victims and has tightened church rules for dealing with abusers.
Special envoys from the Vatican have also been dispatched to Ireland to meet with victims and examine procedures for preventing abuse, with the Vatican saying the mission will help the church “purify itself”.
But campaigners say the church has not done enough to punish those who covered up for abusers.
Only last month, dozens of abuse victims held a rowdy protest in front of the Vatican, calling for the pope himself to be put on trial.
Tomorrow’s discussions will be led by US Cardinal William Joseph Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body in charge of church dogma that was led for more than 20 years by the current pope.
Levada was previously the archbishop of San Francisco.
Barbara Blaine, head of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), has expressed scepticism about the Vatican meeting.
“We’ll only know if this is a good development when we see action resulting from this meeting. To be swayed by mere talk is to betray vulnerable children and wounded adults,” Ms Blaine said earlier in a statement.
“It takes decisive action to oust predator priests and complicit bishops. And when it comes to abuse, this pope, like his predecessors, has shown little commitment to real action.”
Benedict himself has faced allegations that, as cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he headed the Vatican morals watchdog and earlier as the archbishop of Munich, he failed to take action against predator priests.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has played down expectations of any major outcome from the meeting of cardinals.
“It’s a communication, information, clarification, reflection on some questions but not a very thorough examination,” he said, adding that there would be little official communication from the Vatican after the talks.
“When we think about the relatively limited time during the day and the multiplicity of subjects that will be broached, we should not expect reports from the college of cardinals on these themes,” he added.
Cardinals are also expected to discuss the controversial topic of conversions to the church of Anglicans who are disgruntled with the Church of England’s acceptance of women priests and gay marriage.