Pope Francis opens the C. Europe conference on the “crisis” of sexual abuse

Pope Francis speaks with reporters aboard an Alitalia plane en route from Bratislava Milan Rastislav Stefanik International Airport to Bratislava, Slovakia, returning to Rome on September 15, 2021. AFP FILE PHOTO

WARSAW – Pope Francis on Sunday opened a Vatican conference on clergy sexual abuse of children in Central and Eastern Europe, urging participants to think about “concrete ways to reform.”

The multi-day event – a joint initiative of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Polish Bishops’ Conference – brings together Church representatives from 20 countries in the Polish capital Warsaw.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by a long series of sex scandals in Poland, a staunch EU country where it wields strong political influence.

Since last year, the Vatican has sanctioned eight Polish bishops accused of covering up abuses, as well as one cardinal.

The Polish church announced in June that between July 2018 and the end of 2020 it had received 368 allegations of abuse by the clergy, some dating back decades.

In a video message issued on Sunday, Pope Francis called the “serious problem” of child sexual abuse by clergy a “crisis.”

“Our expressions of sadness must be converted into concrete ways of reform to both prevent further abuses and give confidence to others that our efforts will bring real and reliable change,” the pontiff told the participants.

“I encourage you to listen to the cry of the victims and to dedicate yourselves, with one another and with society at large, in these important discussions because they really affect the future of the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

The September 19-22 conference titled “Our Common Mission to Protect God’s Child” will see participants discuss prevention and response in their respective countries.

Professionals in the field of the protection of minors will be present as well as the victims, who must intervene. The conference will also address the impact of a post-communist mentality on the approach to the issue.

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