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Sex abuse victims to church: Prayers and self reflection not enough

CHICAGO, (Illinois News Network) — As a weeklong summit of U.S. Catholic bishops begins in the Chicago suburbs, groups of clergy sex abuse survivors are demanding more independent action, and for the removal of Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began its weeklong meeting in the Chicago suburb of Mundelein Wednesday. Bishops from all around the country are expected to pray and reflect on the child sex abuse scandal.

The Catholic News Service reported the meeting is “a spiritual retreat to pray and reflect on the important matters facing the Catholic Church” and was planned “in response to Pope Francis’ request to a delegation of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops leaders during a meeting at the Vatican” last fall.

Zach Hiner, Executive Director of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the church needs to do more than pray.

“I’m sure that’s important for them. It is irrelevant to this crisis,” Hiner said. “Prayer is not really going to help us right now. What we need to see is concrete action.”

Hiner said there needs to be accountability, and not just for priests accused of abuse “but also for those prelates and other officials that have enabled the abuse by moving abusers around and concealing allegations from the public and law enforcement.”

The Chicago Archdiocese says on its website it has an office of Child Abuse Investigation and Review (CAIR) investigating reports of abuse, and in turn reports to public authorities all such allegations.

CAIR “is headed by a lay professional who provides a compassionate and thorough process for receiving and investigating reports of child abuse against archdiocesan personnel,” the website says. “Archdiocese personnel notify public authorities of all reports of possible abuse of any kind and from any date, regardless of legal requirements.”

“The [CAIR] Board has determined 296 allegations of abuse to be substantiated and determined 75 allegations of abuse to not be substantiated” since 2003, the website says.

Hiner said there needs to be independent investigations and for those accused of moving alleged abusers around to be held accountable.

“Church officials at the Vatican need to do everything they can to make it be taken as seriously as possible,” Hiner said. “By removing a cardinal like Cupich that has these allegations [of shifting priests around] against him is one step.”

Last month, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan released a report detailing how her office reviewed files from the state’s various Catholic Dioceses and uncovered 500 additional allegations on top of the 160 the church unveiled.

“It took the Office’s involvement for the Illinois Dioceses to disclose an additional 45 clergy as having been ‘credibly’ accused of sexually abusing minors,” the report said. “Remarkably, the Illinois Dioceses had been aware of nearly all of these allegations for years, in some cases decades, and the dioceses had substantiated the allegations long ago.”

Madigan’s office said they also got 300 calls to a clergy abuse hotline.

“Survivors reported battling alcoholism, drug use, mental health crises, and suicide attempts. They spoke of failed careers, broken marriages, and strained relationships with loved ones, including their own children,” the report said. “Many chillingly detailed how they followed the movements of their abusers, as the clergy were transferred around Catholic parishes. They often kept track of their abusers through the clergy’s retirement and death. The stories are heartbreaking. ”

Hiner praised Madigan’s report and called for more such independent investigations. He also said the church should invite survivors to a planned February conference at the Vatican to further focus on the issue.

“Meet with survivors from around the world,” Hiner said. “Invite them to come to the summit. Invite them to have a leading role in sharing with church officials what happened to them … We’ve seen a lot of internal dialog and discussion amongst church officials but they really need to be bringing it outside to other survivors and other law enforcement officials.”

Pope Francis named Cardinal Cupich to the organizing committee planning the February meeting at the Vatican. There, the world’s bishops’ conferences and other representatives plan to address the abuse and protection of minors.

“Pope Francis wants church leaders to have a full understanding of the devastating impact that clerical sexual abuse has on victims,” Greg Burke of the Vatican press office told the Catholic News Service.

SNAP and the international group End Clergy Abuse protested outside the Chicago archdiocese Wednesday afternoon, calling on Cupich to be removed. The archdiocese didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

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