Pope Francis skips meeting with survivors on eve of Vatican clergy abuse summit

Clergy sexual abuse survivors were left waiting for answers Wednesday as an international mix of Catholic Church leaders gathered in Rome to address the child sexual abuse scandal that has rocked parishes around the world — including Western Pennsylvania.

Calls for an apology to survivors, an acknowledgement of their pain, sweeping global policy changes and the ouster of a Pennsylvania bishop some deemed to have been complicit in cover-ups were among the demands survivors took to Rome.

Shaun Dougherty, a 49-year-old Johnstown native, was among 12 survivors invited to meet with church leaders in advance of the official call to order of the four-day summit on clergy sexual abuse, which Pope Francis will convene at the Vatican beginning Thursday. Dougherty was disappointed but not surprised the pope did not attend Wednesday’s meeting with survivors.

“I’m aggravated. This is the CEO of the Roman Catholic Church,” Dougherty told CBS News reporter Nikki Battiste. “We came to his house to meet with him about his abusive priests … and he wasn’t there. He delegated.”

Dougherty and other survivors met for more than two hours with the Vatican’s lead sex abuse investigator and other members of the organizing committee for the summit. The event is taking place amid intense scrutiny after new allegations of abuse and cover-up last year sparked a credibility crisis for the Catholic Church hierarchy.

Phil Saviano, an American who played a crucial role in exposing clergy abuse in the United States decades ago, said after the survivors’ meeting that he argued for the Vatican to release the names of abusive priests around the world along with their case files.

“Do it to launch a new era of transparency,” Saviano said he told the summit committee in a letter and in person. “Do it to break the code of silence. Do it out of respect for the victims of these men, and do it to help prevent these creeps from abusing any more children.”

Dougherty said he hoped for an apology from church leaders and a plan to address the problem with zero tolerance for abuse so no other child will have to face the kind of abuse he faced from a trusted parish priest beginning when he was 10.

He has yet to realize those goals.

Dougherty and other survivors and support groups gathered in Rome will work to promote change and transparency in the Church, as the international group of bishops meets through Sunday.

SNAP, or the Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests, sent four delegates to Rome. The 30-year-old support group that claims 25,000 members and supporters, enumerated five policy goals in a letter delivered to Pope Francis this month. They also asked for a meeting with the pontiff — a request that as of Wednesday remained unanswered.

Among their demands were that the church:

• Adopt a zero tolerance for abuse worldwide

• Oust church leaders who have covered-up abuse

• Order that all internal files as well as future complaints be turned over to law enforcement

• Order church leaders to drop efforts to block changes to state laws that would give survivors timed out of court by the statute of limitations an opportunity to file civil suits

Citing last summer’s Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed allegations of rampant clergy sexual abuse, the group also called for the ouster of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik. They said the report showed that Zubik failed to act quickly to save children and was complicit in cover-ups.

The Pittsburgh bishop previously has resisted prior calls to resign from the post he has held since 2007. He said he wants to be “part of the healing.”

SNAP’s Midwest spokeswoman Judy Jones said that is not enough.

“We are asking Pope Francis to demonstrate that he understands just how deeply this crisis is rooted and it needs to be addressed in every diocese, including the Pittsburgh diocese,” Jones said.

Francis set high hopes among survivors when he acknowledged the shadow predator priests and abuse cover-ups have cast on the church and called the presidents of national conferences of Catholic bishops from around the world to Rome.

“Bishop Zubik joins with all the faithful of the Diocese of Pittsburgh in praying for the success of the summit and its goal of protecting children and young people worldwide,” a spokeswoman from the Pittsburgh diocese said in a statement.

Expectations ratcheted up even higher after the Vatican announced Saturday that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been defrocked after being found guilty of soliciting sex during confession and for having committed sins against adults and minors.

In addition to SNAP, delegates from BishopAccountabilty.org and End Clergy Abuse gathered to monitor the summit, as did Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks.

Rozzi, an abuse survivor who testified before the state grand jury, has enlisted the aid of survivors and survivor groups to promote a change in Pennsylvania law to open the courts so adult abuse survivors barred from court by the statute of limitations would have a limited opportunity to file civil suits against the church. He and others are asking the pope to request that church leaders drop their opposition to such laws.