Pope Benedict has called for a profound renewal of the Catholic Church, at the start of an unprecedented summit in Rome designed to combat the sexual abuse of children by priests.
Help for victims, he said, should be top priority as at least one cardinal defended his handling of abuse cases.
The summit aims to produce guidelines to help the church crack down on paedophile clergy and help the authorities tackle crime.
“I think this is a challenge that will always be with us. The more important thing is to act on prevention, especially with information that can empower leaders and communities to respond to any danger, or any mishap in an adequate way,” said the Vatican’s ‘justice promoter’, Monsignor Charles Scicluna.
The summit has been dismissed by one victims’ group as a PR exercise. It called for the church to be subjected to an independent inquiry.
But the only victim who was invited, who was raped by a priest when she was 13, described the event as a positive step in the right direction.
Marie Collins, an Irish abuse victim, said:
“As a survivor I don’t want to see any child go through the same as I have myself. And I think that is the way most survivors feel. So this is an extremely important event, I feel – for everybody, for the church and for survivors as well, and for the future.”
As the Church tries to break from its past, forty speakers will tackle subjects from the training of priests to internet pornography.
For one observer, this is the first time the Church is addressing its responsibility over sexual abuse at international level.