'I cannot promise we will never make another mistake': Quebec cardinal on sex abuse summit
Published Thursday, February 21, 2019 6:51AM EST Last Updated Thursday, February 21, 2019 8:36AM EST
Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet says Pope Francis' historic summit on preventing sex abuse in the clergy is a good first step but says "I cannot promise we will never make another mistake."
Ouellet told CTV News' Paul Workman that the Vatican is taking the allegations of sex abuse seriously, citing the historic summit as the first step in reconciliation.
"[Clergy sex abuse] is a huge crisis but this event is a great signal of hope because it is the indication that the church is taking very seriously the problem of the protection of minors, and want to address it globally," said Ouellet.
But as Pope Francis said in his opening remarks of the summit, survivors don't just want these crimes condemned; they want action.
The summit is taking place amid intense scrutiny after new allegations of abuse and coverup last year sparked a credibility crisis for the Catholic Church hierarchy.
Ouellet acknowledges that there was a major coverup saying the church was not aware of the "gravity of the problem" and its members are "ashamed of what happened in the past."
Before the summit began, Vatican officials met with sexual abuse victims on Wednesday who pushed for a zero-tolerance policy on allegations of sexual abuse, asking for abusers to be removed from the church.
Ouellet said members are not thrown out of the church, only the ministry, despite abuse.
Survivors at the meeting demanded that the church take action against abuse by releasing the names of abusive priests around the world along with their case files.
For centuries, the Vatican's law system included banning books and dispensing harsh punishments that included burnings at the stake for heretics.
Today, the Vatican's laws for reporting and handling sex abuse allegations consist of "non-binding" internal reports with the congregation deciding on a punishment ranging from "penance and prayer" to defrocking.
According to Ouellet, the summit is meant to establish a new guideline for church officials to follow when confronted with future cases of abuse.
"Under the leadership of Pope Francis we are determined to go forward and offer concrete measures in a 'vade mecum' -- Latin for a sort of manual -- for bishops and for religious superiors to know what to do when there is a case."
The Vatican has not yet outlined the specifics of said measures.
Ouellet added that the summit is important in recognizing sex abuse as not everyone in all levels of the church is aware of the issue.
Bishops in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia either deny clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or downplay the problem.
While the Catholic Church claims that significant steps are being made to address abuse, Ouellet says he cannot promise that clergy sex abuse will end.
"No more excuses, but I cannot promise we will never make another mistake," said Ouellet. "We need to acknowledge that we are men with normal limitations but we are really determined to move forward."
When asked if the Catholic Church is still covering up abuse, Ouellet said the Church needs more information and to look at more statistics before he can say.
"We are ashamed and want to repent for the failures and we want to take concrete means to avoid that being repeated in the future," said Ouellet.
Ouellet says he does not think victims will judge the summit or the church for not opting for a zero-tolerance policy on clergy sex abusers, calling it a "moment of awareness."
"I think the victims will be the first to acknowledge that the church is finally acknowledging them, their pain, their suffering, and their need for reconciliation," says Ouellet. "I tell victims that we are ashamed of what happened to them but 'do not lose your hope and your faith'."