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Top cardinal tells Vatican that several sex abuse documents were destroyed.
A top German cardinal said Saturday that documents on past sex abuse cases in the church had been destroyed or ignored and urged changes to the Vatican’s legal code of secrecy in such issues to restore trust.
Calling for the publication of statistics on the problem, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx addressed Pope Francis’ four-day sex abuse prevention summit at the Vatican.
He said the church must redefine confidentiality and secrecy in the way it deals with such cases or risk charges of cover-up.
“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created,” he told the group, according to Vatican News. “Instead of the perpetrators, the victims were regulated and silence imposed on them.”
The cardinal blamed “abuse of power in the area of administration” as a major factor in the sexual abuse of children and young people. “In this regard, administration has not contributed to fulfilling the mission of the church, but on the contrary, has obscured, discredited and made it impossible.”
In an effort to keep the burgeoning scandal buried, he said, church files about abusers had been destroyed, victims silenced and church procedures ignored, canceled or countermanded.
Pope Francis called the four-day summit that brought together almost 200 high-ranking church officials, including leaders of bishop conferences from more than 100 nations. The summit has focused on making bishops aware of their responsibilities regarding sexual abuse, as well as accountability and transparency, the Vatican said.
The pope, in his opening remarks Thursday, cited the “scourge” of sexual abuse and said it was the responsibility of church leaders to “confront this evil afflicting the Church and humanity.”
Marx called for changes to the Vatican’s legal code of secrecy to not only bring transparency but to highlight the cases and determine who made decision on how they were handled, when and why.
The summit has also provided an opportunity for a public airing of the extent of the problem in the church. A prominent Nigerian nun on Saturday blasted the culture of silence that has long kept clergy sexual abuse hidden in the Catholic Church, telling a Vatican summit that transparency and an admission of mistakes were needed to restore trust.
The summit began with an African woman who was not identified recounting how her priest raped her and forced her to have three abortions over a dozen years after he started violating her at age 15.
It included a warning from Colombian Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez that they could all face prison if they let such crimes go unpunished.
Last week, Francis defrocked former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick, 88, after Vatican officials found him guilty of sex crimes against minors and adults. McCarrick is the most senior Catholic official to be defrocked for such crimes.
Experts said McCarrick’s case sends an important signal that even cardinals and powerful archbishops will be held accountable.
More than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia and 20 years after it hit the U.S., bishops and Catholic officials in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia still either deny that clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or downplay the problem.