Pope Francis has told Catholics they should have “deflated” expectations about the upcoming Vatican summit on the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and that the problem of clergy sexual abuse will not likely be resolved.
The pontiff made the controversial remarks on an overnight flight back to Rome, after the conclusion of World Youth Day in Panama. He was holding a news conference for journalists in the plane’s cabin.
During the exchange, Pope Francis laid out the specific goals he has for the February summit. He hopes to help church leaders understand the pain that victims of clergy sexual abuse have experienced, and to develop protocols that can be used in cases of alleged abuse. The goals were decided upon by the pope’s council of cardinal advisers.
“We saw that some bishops didn’t understand well, or didn’t know what to do or they did something good or something wrong,” the pope explained. “We felt the responsibility of giving them a “catechesis” on this problem to the bishops’ conferences.
"I regularly receive people who have been abused,” said Pope Francis. “I remember one -- 40 years old -- who was unable to pray. Terrible, the suffering is terrible. So, firstly, that they may be aware of this."
"That is the main thing but before thinking about what should be done, they first must be aware. Then, there will be prayer, there will be some testimony so that they may be made aware, and some penitential liturgy, to ask forgiveness for the whole church."
However, the pope also expressed his concern that some Catholics may have unrealistic expectations for the summit.
"Let me say that I've sensed somewhat inflated expectations," Pope Francis told the group of journalists. "We have to deflate the expectations to these three points, because the problem of abuse will continue. It's a human problem."
“If we resolve the issue within the Church, we may be able to help solve it in society, in families,” he said. “But firstly, we need to become conscious of it, have the protocols, and move forward.”
Not all Catholics were pleased by the pope’s words about expectations for the summit.
John A. Monaco, a graduate student in theology, tweeted about his frustration Monday.
“If that's the case, then our Church is in a worse place than previously thought. Pretty sure every bishop should know basic natural law & the Ten Commandments, but I guess I shouldn't hold my breath.”
Monaco himself claims to have witnessed clergy sexual abuse and misconduct during his time in seminary.
Another man’s tweet expressed disappointment in the Vatican’s ongoing response to sexual abuse.
“Many victims expected the summit to be a turning point. What has to happen? Francis said he hoped to make church leaders across the globe understand the pain sexual abuse inflicts upon victims. They understand but they choose not to look and listen.”
The Vatican’s summit on clergy sexual abuse is scheduled for February 21-24.