Bishops in Spain, Italy, France and other countries are still not applying “zero tolerance” policies for priest abusers and their enablers, abuse survivors said in Rome February 17.

– “Still entirely possible to keep an abuser in ministry”

The international survivors’ group Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) and the US-based association BishopAccountability.org have convened for this week around the Vatican a series of events to mark one year since Pope Francis’ anti-abuse summit with bishops from all over the world.

A year after that summit, “looking at the dioceses, parishes and episcopal conferences in seven of the largest Catholic countries in the world, we’re finding mixed results”, co-founder of Bishop Accountability Anne Barrett Doyle said.

“But what they all have in common is a sobering verdict on the summit, which is that it is still entirely possible today, as it was a year ago, for a bishop to knowingly keep an abuser in ministry or return him to ministry, and for neither one of them to suffer a consequence under canon law”.

– In the year since the Vatican summit, “too little, too late, not enough”

Doyle and two victims from the US and Germany, Phil Saviano and Matthias Katsch respectively, presented their findings on follow-ups to the Vatican anti-pedophilia summit in countries such as Italy, Spain, France, the Philippines, the US and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Although there have been some important advances taken in the past year – such as Pope Francis’ mandating all priests and religious report to civil authorities the abuse cases they have knowledge of, and his abolishing the “pontifical secret” on Church pedophilia investigations – in the words of Katsch, “what has been done can be described as too little, too late and not enough”.

“Thanks to the efforts of victim survivors, things are getting better, slowly but steadily”, Katsch said, explaining that “in each country you need survivors who speak up and people who listen”.

– Bishops still hiding behind concordats with the Holy See

In terms of the positive outcomes of the Vatican anti-abuse summit, Doyle celebrated the fact that reports of priest abuse in Spain “have gone up 50% thanks to investigations published in the media”, that in France some 4,500 victims have now denounced their cases to the independent Church abuse commission, and that in Italy the Bishop of Prato, Giovanni Nerbini, recently went above and beyond Church protocol to report suspected religious abusers to the police.

But in Italy and Spain in particular, Doyle said, bishops are still hiding between their countries’ “concordats” – or diplomatic agreements – with the Holy See which mean they don’t have to testify in court on abuse cases.

In France, too, there was the setback for clergy sex abuse victims that was the overturning of the verdict against Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon for covering up the crimes of a pedophile priest.

– “A new era of transparency” or a case of “old habits die hard”?

ECA and Bishop Accountability’s reflections on the state of child protection and “zero tolerance” for priest abusers in the Church came as Irish survivor and victims’ advocate Marie Collins was writing in the Irish Times about how Pope Francis’ abolition of the pontifical secret represents “a step forward for justice”.

The former member of Pope Francis’ Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) wrote that “the effect of the pontifical secret on the victim in canon law abuse trials was to deny them rights which would be the norm in secular criminal law trials”.

But now, continued Collins, “the removal of the pontifical secret from canon law trials of a sexual nature brings a balance of rights to the victim and allows files and information to be shared with civil authorities. It should also facilitate more sharing of preventative information between ecclesiastical bodies”.

“This action by Pope Francis has opened the way to a new era of transparency. However, old habits die hard so it is a case of wait and see”, Collins concluded.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.