VATICAN CITY (WCBS 880) — Pope Francis officially opened a landmark sex abuse prevention summit at the Vatican on Thursday be offering senior Catholic leaders 21 proposals to punish predators and keep children safe.
CBS News correspondent Sabina Castelfranco told WCBS 880 that the pope has called on 190 leaders of bishops conferences and religious orders from all across the world to discuss “what has become a global problem.”
The summit is meant to be a tutorial for religious leaders to learn the importance of preventing sex abuse while also learning how to respond to the victims and criminal investigations.
“The pope in his opening statement said to those that were gathered there that the holy people of god are expecting, not simple and predictable condemnations from this summit, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken,” Castelfranco explained.
Francis reportedly stressed the fact twice saying, “We need to be concrete.”
The Catholic hierarchy has come under fire in the recent years for allegedly down-playing and covering up abuse allegations made against priests.
Leaders have repeatedly reputed the claims, but during the summit Colombian Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez warned they could face canonical sanctions and imprisonment for a cover-up of abuse.
He added that the action “is the distortion of the meaning of ministry, which converts it into a means to impose force, to violate the conscience and the bodies of the weakest.”
As the summit got underway, thousands of victims of priest sexual abuse from all over the world flocked to the Vatican claiming the meeting is too late.
“They're saying that this is much too late for this summit to be held,” said Castelfranco. “A group of them has been received by Pope Francis, yesterday in fact, about twelve of them. So, they had their opportunity to talk about what they expect from this summit.”
She notes that they met with the organizers of the summit, and not Pope Francis himself. It remains unclear if they will meet with Francis face-to-face.
Still, the Pope offered Catholic leaders a path of reform going forward and handing out a 21-point set of proposals to consider, including some that could require changes to canon law.
“The main goal of Pope Francis here is to ensure that church leaders in all countries are perfectly aware of this problem, I think this is a realistic goal,” Castelfranco said. “However, what the survivors would like is that the zero tolerance that Pope Francis promised when he became pope — zero tolerance towards perpetrators and zero tolerance towards those who cover up abuse — that this be turned into church doctrine.”