Pope Francis on Sunday opened a Vatican conference on child sex abuse by the clergy in Central and Eastern Europe by urging participants to brainstorm “concrete pathways of reform”.
The multi-day event — a joint initiative of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Polish Bishops’ Conference — brings together Church representatives from 20 countries in the Polish capital Warsaw.
The Catholic Church has been rocked by a long series of sexual scandals in Poland, a devout EU country where it wields strong political influence.
Since last year, the Vatican has sanctioned eight Polish bishops accused of covering up abuse, as well as a cardinal.
The Polish church announced in June that from July 2018 until the end of 2020, it had received 368 allegations of abuse committed by clergy, including some dating back decades.
In a video message delivered Sunday, Pope Francis described the “serious issue” of child sex abuse by the clergy as a “crisis”.
“Our expressions of sorrow must be converted into concrete pathways of reform to both prevent further abuse and to give confidence to others that our efforts will bring about real and reliable change,” the pontiff told attendees.
“I encourage you to listen to the cry of the victims and to dedicate yourselves, with each other and with society in a broader sense, in these important discussions because they truly touch the future of the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.”
The September 19-22 conference entitled “Our common mission of safeguarding God’s child” will see participants discuss prevention and intervention in their respective countries.
Professionals from the field of the protection of minors will be in attendance along with victims, who are due to speak. The conference will also address the impact of a post-Communist mentality on the approach to the issue.