Day 1 of Vatican summit features peremptory points, harrowing testimonies

The highest-level Catholic meeting opened in Rome in the almost surreal conditions created by a heady atmosphere of intense media attention and a swirling maelstrom that threatened to swallow already low expectations.

Pope Francis attends the opening session of the meeting on the protection of minors in the church at the Vatican Feb. 21, 2019. (CNS photo/Evandro Inetti, pool)

(February 21st, 2019 — Rome) The highest-level Catholic meeting on the most terrible ecclesiastical crisis in 500 years opened in Rome on Thursday in the almost surreal conditions created by a heady atmosphere of intense media attention and a swirling maelstrom that threatened to swallow already low expectations.

The first surprise of the day was Pope Francis’ list of 21 “points for reflection” — no one was expecting them. No one needed them. They came, by Francis’ own admission, from the participants in the meeting — making them appear to be at once peremptory and redundant.

“They are guidelines to assist in our reflection,” Pope Francis told participants, “a simple point of departure that came from you and now return to you.” He hastened to add, “They are not meant to detract from the creativity needed in this meeting.”

Be that as it may, the way in which one intends things and how they are received — how one ought reasonably to expect one’s audience to receive them — are often two very much different things. How such reasonable expectation ought to inform one’s casting of ideas, especially when one is in a position of power, is always a difficult business to negotiate.

The moderator of the meeting, Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ, described the 21 reflection points as “the result of his reflection, of his collection of ideas, which give us a lively sense of concreteness.”

Fr. Lombardi said the meeting “started on the right foot,” noting how Pope Francis’ very brief opening remarks — they were half a single-spaced page — touched on all the keywords: from listening and synodality, to parrhesia — which is frankness, forthrightness, directness of speech — to the aforementioned concreteness, to conversion and purification. Fr. Lombardi is right: the Pope’s speech hit them all.

The participants heard harrowing, withering testimony from victims, as well.

Juan Carlos Cruz — the only survivor-witness to reveal his identity — told the participants, “You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed – in some cases – into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith.”

Another victim told of abuse she suffered during the course of a thirteen-year relationship with a priest that began when she was aged 15. “I got pregnant three times and he made me have an abortion three times,” the woman recounted, “quite simply because he did not want to use condoms or contraceptives.” The woman went on to say, “At first I trusted him so much that I did not know he could abuse me. I was afraid of him, and every time I refused to have sex with him, he would beat me.”

Another victim was a religious priest, who had been abused as a teenager, and only brought his suffering to the attention of Church authority many years after he had suffered it. “First, I wrote a letter to the bishop, six months later, I had a meeting with the priest. The bishop did not answer me, and after six months, I wrote to the nuncio. The nuncio reacted showing understanding. Then I met the bishop and he attacked me without trying to understand me, and this hurt me.”

Another victim said the thing that has left the worst wound is, “the full realization of the total loss of the innocence of my youth and how that has affected me today.” This victim went on to say, “There’s still pain in my family relationships. There’s still pain with my siblings. I still carry pain. My parents still carry pain at the dysfunction, the betrayal, the manipulation that this bad man, who was our Catholic priest at the time, wrought upon my family and myself.”

The fifth and final victim to give witness said, “If we want to save the Church, we need to get our act together and [bring] the perpetrators to book.”

In his opening remarks, Pope Francis said, “The holy People of God looks to us, and expects from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken.” That is certainly true, but it is not all that the faithful expect.

“There’s nothing different in here than there was yesterday,” said abuse survivor and victim-advocate Peter Isely in remarks quoted by Crux in reference to Pope Francis’s 21 reflection points. “Where is it in these points that if you’re a bishop or a cardinal and you’ve covered up child sex crimes, that you’re going to be removed from the priesthood or that any action will be taken against you?”

Both in the meeting and on the sidelines — the outskirts, if you will, or the peripheries — victims have been looking not only for “concrete and effective measures” from Church leadership, but for something else. They have been looking for justice. They want a reckoning.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 240 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. I have seldom heard such a collection of rhetorical b.s. phrases even in academia. If this is the vocabulary to be used, nothing will substantially change. Please Lord, give us new leadership.

  2. For Bergoglio, “mercy” is really the enjoyment and proclamation of non-justice. No need for Scripture, Tradition and no need of course for St. Thomas. He is indeed exactly as the fawning Rosica stated… why Bergoglio was promoted as a papal candidate. Bergoglio goes as far as to propose that the “The holy People of God looks to us, and expects from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken.”

    Yes, for Bergoglio the truly “holy” have little concern for “justice.” Has he not equated such a concern with “gossip” and “the Evil One” followed by other members of the hierarchy who agreed and continue to agree with him? We can intuit why they must agree with him without an accusation of rash judgement I dare say…based on their public statements and actions.

    Is so much of this “obstinacy” in the hierarchy a reflection of “compulsivity?”

    From Day 1 of Bergoglio’s pontificate the intended primary beneficiaries of this sham “mercy” would be not first and foremost divorced and remarried Catholics, not those possibly sentenced to death or even homosexuals in the world but a network of homosexual hierarchs and clerics.

    Even the proclamation of a “new church” which is it seems a de facto “Ignatian” synodal church is at that service of this network, not anything “the holy People of God” (the laity) sufficiently insulated from “effective measures” truly seek.

    If protection of this network required and requires a continual sell out to globalists, secularists, communist leadership and various alternative economic entities… so be it. And yes, a continual reliance on straw man be it.

    Point 1 for consideration (and there is really only one point): Let delusion and self-delusion be termed “discernment.”

    There is so much of the diabolic in stating the opposite as what a person “really seeks.”

    Such is and will be Antichrist.

    Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a Mother to me now.

    Pray the Rosary.

  3. All of this was prophesied over the past decades and it appears that no one listened to the seers and victim souls. Now a cleansing needs to take place so that Mother Church can shine in the world as being the Church founded by Jesus and not humanity.
    Dear all, who are religious you cannot hide if you are the cause of this. Satan has taken hold of the very weakness of humanity and that is the sins of the flesh and many have fallen. Has anyone not reflected what Our Lady said in 1917 to the seers. Does not seem to be the case ???????

  4. Every year on January 1st, Lake Superior State University in Michigan publishes a list of words to be banished from the English language-due to “mis-use, over-use and general uselessness.”
    I propose “concrete” and all its many forms. “[L]ively sense of concreteness”?? Fr. Lombardi really said that?
    Oh that poor word. It is time to let it retire.

  5. At the moment the leaders stop talking,all hope has been lost. Please take head, the members of your church are who make your church. This means you are not leaders, you are guides, pastores.
    If some of you are not able to guide, and in stead want only to take, please leave. Your church is better off without you!

  6. Altieri notes “points of reflection” presented as “guidelines” by the Supreme Authority nevertheless carry due weight. Harrowing tales by minors of priest abuse is intended to narrow focus. Taken together the predetermined agenda is set. Likelihood of any one bishop raising the far weightier issue-since abuse of minors has already been effectively addressed with sharp decline-of interactive adult clerical homosexuality and predation of vulnerable priests of lower rank and seminarians is largely subdued. So far no article on today’s Feast The Chair of Peter. Peter the Rock faltered repented recovered given commission by Christ to “Strengthen your brothers”. If bishops voiced the far weightier issue with proper composure, a humble appeal to the Pontiff including his response to alleged involvement in the McCarrick tragedy-this also commended by many Laity now in Rome from all quarters-and Pope Francis responded exactly as he did in Chile if what is indicated warrants What great healing that would bring. The initial process of purification and strengthening of the Church. In his confession of faith Peter is handed the Keys with promise “The gates of hell will not prevail against it”. The Church. That promise of victory doesn’t preclude entrance of evil into the Church. It was referenced by Anthony Esolen ‘ages’ past as the Truth piercing those infernal gates. This morning’s Office of Readings cites Pope Saint Leo the Great, “The gates of hell shall not silence this confession of faith”. Silence Cardinals Burke and Brandmuller implore the attending Bishops to Vanquish.

  7. Imagine an opening speech in which the Pontiff stated that if “you know that you were complicit in any act, cover-up or neglect of service to the flock in this matter at hand, then I ask that in good conscience, before Christ Himself who you will certainly face in time, you now lay down your staff in graciousness to allow another to shepherd in your place; otherwise if you have been complicit as a wolf among the sheep, we will begin this day to find you out and expose you in disgrace…” One can dream…

  8. There is a active priest in eastern North Carolina who preys on married women. A serial offender. He operates below the radar as his victims are adult women who tend not to turn him in, probably due their own guilt and to keep their marriages together. Years after he left our parish the scars still linger. He is still in our diocese. In addition, some of his beliefs, which he periodically reveals, are simply not Catholic such as; all religions are saved, and he questions the bodily Resurrection. Are the Bishops interested in priests who carry out this type of behavior at their meeting, or is this outside of their concern? It shouldn’t be, it’s sexual abuse in another form, using is position of trust to exploit and lure women in. Shameful!

    • I think what you have said happens more often that we would like to think. The time has come to name names. Don’t protect this guy, Jim. Name him. The bishops won’t act, the laity needs to.

  9. The highest-level Catholic meeting on the most terrible ecclesiastical crisis in 500 years opened in Rome on Thursday …

    That is incorrect. The greatest ecclesiastical crisis in 500 years is the Church’s rendering unto Caesar authority over innocent human life that belongs to God alone. Its basic compliance with Caesar’s claim that he has the authority to “legalize” the murder of innocent humanity as a matter of social policy is blatant idolatry.

    The Church issues calls to abolish the death penalty worldwide, but not to abolish the “legal” murder of babies worldwide. I don’t know how many criminals have been put to death in the last half-century, but that number has to be infinitesimally small compared to the two-billion babies that have been butchered in that period of time.

    The deepest, most dangerous crises are the ones to which we are oblivious.

    Idolatry destroys Christianity. We can see its demise everywhere. This will continue until we realize its root cause: blatant idolatry.

  10. I was an altar boy for 10 years in the late 60s and early 70s. Most of the priests were holy and devout men ordained in the 30s and 40s who never quite adapted happily to the “Novus Ordo” or the “hip and groovy” post Vatican II Church. If the Four Evangelists themselves – i.e., Mark, Matthew, Luke and John had been parish priests at my Church in the late 60s and early 70s and invited me or other altar boys over for a “sleepover” – my parents would have told them to “%$ to #^%%”. Likewise, when Father “hip and groovy” played guitar in the gym of our Catholic elementary school – surrounded by adoring 15 year old girls – my parents (who, as orthodox Catholics, were never very popular with the “in crowd to begin with) remarked angrily afterwards: “That fool is going to leave the priesthood if he continues in this manner. Don’t these new idiots know anything about temptation?” If I recall – thousands did exactly that. Grow up and admit the facts: The Church got “Woodstocked” in the 1960s – and now were are reaping a very bitter harvest.

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