A Canadian woman attending a historic Vatican summit on preventing sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy is urging Pope Francis to apologize to and compensate the victims of Canada’s residential schools.
But Evelyn Korkmaz is deeply disappointed the Pope did not attend a meeting between bishops and a dozen sex abuse survivors Wednesday.
“Which is very disappointing because he obviously he doesn’t think this is serious enough for him to attend,” she told CTV News Channel Wednesday in a phone interview from Rome. The Pope called the summit and survivors from around the world travelled to the Vatican to attend.
“So he should have listened to us. At least give us that much.”
The summit is an unprecedented gathering of some 190 presidents of bishops' conferences, religious orders and Vatican offices to take part in lectures and workshops on preventing sex abuse in their churches, tending to victims, and investigating abuse.
In a statement from the Vatican press office, members of the organizing committee said the two-hour meeting with survivors helped them to understand the "gravity and urgency" of the problem.
Many church leaders continue to protect the church's reputation by denying that priests rape children and by discrediting victims. The Pope himself admits to having made similar mistakes.
But on Wednesday he told pilgrims from southern Italy that while the church's "defects" must be denounced in order to correct them, those who spend their lives "accusing" the church are either the devil's friends or relatives.
Francis didn't cite specific accusations nor mention the summit in his remarks.
Korkmaz attended St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in northern Ontario, widely considered one of the country’s most notorious residential schools. She said the Pope should apologize to those who suffered abuse at its residential schools, which has caused decades of “damage and dysfunction.” He should also honour his promise help raise $25 million to Canada’s Indigenous people, she says.
An apology is important because it “acknowledges that the church committed genocide to my people though mental, physical and sexual abuse,” she said.
Widespread calls for the Vatican to acknowledge and apologize for the sex abuse of First Nations children at residential schools have, so far, not been fulfilled.
Last year, a letter written by Bishop Lionel Gendron, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Pope was “aware” of the findings of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission but “felt that he could not personally respond” to a request for an apology.
The Catholic Church ran 72 per cent of Canada’s residential schools, which were set up to assimilate Indigenous children, often through forcible removal from their homes.
Korkmaz was among several members of the global group Ending Clergy Abuse who held a news conference Wednesday.
Peter Isely, a founding member of the group, says there should be zero tolerance for priests who abuse children.
“If you’ve done that and you’ve used the priesthood to do that … you’re going to be taken out of the priesthood.”
Isely says survivors of clergy abuse around the world have faced the same deception, non-transparency and irresponsibility of church officials.
“That’s happening everywhere in the world. It’s the same pattern. It’s the same playbook. The only way to solve this is at the top.”
He says the summit is encouraging other survivors to come forward.
“If nothing else happens in that summit but survivors reaching other survivors, then it’s been an enormous success,” he said. “This is a historic moment. This has taken decades, this has taken centuries to happen and it’s now being recognized. Pope Francis has recognized it as a global problem.”
Jerry Boyle, who was abused by a priest at 14 and 15 while attending high school in Windsor, says all clergy involved in covering up the crimes of others should be fired and all records documenting abuse should be turned over to authorities.
“Stop lobbying to protect the church and ignore the victims. It’s inappropriate and it’s far from anything holy,” he told CTV News Channel Wednesday.
Boyle’s abuser was later convicted of abusing 18 boys, while Boyle was told by another priest during confession that Boyle himself was at fault for the abuse he experienced.
He said Pope Francis, while better than previous popes in confronting clergy sex abuse, has behaved more like a politician than someone truly concerned for victims.
“He’s got enough ammunition and evidence to make positive change if he chooses to do so.”