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What did Pope Francis’ summit on clerical sex abuse achieve?

The unprecedented Vatican summit focused on clerical sexual abuse concluded over the weekend, with Pope Francis insisting the Catholic Church must end its long history of covering up child sexual abuse. The pope called for an “all-out battle” but didn’t offer many specifics, prompting criticism from survivors. Judy Woodruff talks to Becky Ianni of the victim support group SNAP for her reaction.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Pope Francis ended an unprecedented Vatican summit focused on clergy sexual abuse by insisting the Catholic Church end its long history of covering up the abuse of children.

    The pope called for an all-out battle, but he stopped short of offering specifics after four days of meetings.

    Becky Ianni is a board member of the group — of the support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She is also a survivor of childhood clergy sexual abuse herself.

    Becky Ianni, thank you very much for being here.

    What was your main takeaway from these meetings that the Vatican hosted?

  • Becky Ianni:

    That we're in the same situation that we were before it started.

    We went in hoping that there was going to be concrete action. We went in hoping that they were going to come up with a plan of action and actually take an action. But, instead, they came up with 21 reflection points, and then Pope Francis on the last day came up with eight guidelines.

    And one of those guidelines was something as simple as, what is the seriousness of this problem? As a child of 8, when I was abused, I knew it was a sin. I knew it was wrong. Why don't they know that now? Why does that have to be a guideline?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one of the things that was reported was that the pope was using this meeting to try to persuade the bishops and other leaders in the church that they needed to change their approach and become more accountable, rather than ordering to do this by changing the rules.

    Was that just the wrong approach at the outset?

  • Becky Ianni:

    I think the pope has the ultimate authority here.

    I think he put it back in the hands of the bishops. But the bishops don't have that authority. The pope can right now today fire a bishop JUDY who covers up abuse. He could tell them to turn over all their files. He didn't neither of those during this conference. He said — he talked about self-accusation, like they're supposed to accuse themselves?

    I don't think that's going to work. We have had three decades of dealing with this abuse in the United States. And some of these countries are just beginning. How many kids are going to be abused while they come up with new procedures?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, was there anything positive that came out of this? I mean, was there — did you hear a higher level of consciousness on the part of the pope? What did you hear that gives you any trust?

  • Becky Ianni:

    I heard Sister Veronica, one of the sisters who spoke during the summit, and she spoke to the bishops about how they needed to do something.

    And seeing a woman speak, to me, was encouraging. I was encouraged to hear — appalled, but also encouraged to hear Cardinal Marx talk about the documents being destroyed. And saying that out loud kind of led me to, is there going to be more transparency?

    But, overall, I really don't think much happened. I don't think we came out with anything that's going to protect a child.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you mentioned the cardinal speaking about documents being destroyed. What was the reaction to that? I mean, that's a remarkable acknowledgement.

  • Becky Ianni:

    It's a remarkable acknowledgement, but I don't think it's a surprise to victims.

    I think we have all thought that they — if they're not hiding them, they're destroying them. And he also said, maybe they were never documented. So how many times has a survivor gone in and talked to a church official, and it doesn't get written down or it doesn't get put into a file that we can later find?

    We don't know, because they have been so secretive for all these years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think it's realistic to expect this pope, with this set of leaders in the church, in the Catholic Church right now, to order them to say, we're changing the rules, we're changing the law of the Catholic Church, and this has to change immediately?

  • Becky Ianni:

    I don't know that it has to change immediately. But I do think he can take actions right now.

    He could fire a cardinal. And I think that would send a message out to all the other cardinals and bishops, you better not cover up abuse, it's not going to be tolerated.

    I think that my own personal opinion is that we're going to have to rely on secular authorities. I don't see the church changing any time soon. And I do think that we're going to have to rely on the attorney generals and law enforcement to keep the church accountable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're speaking about the United States now, or are you saying around the world?

  • Becky Ianni:

    I think — around the world, I think you could say that we need to rely on the — look at the story in Venezuela where a deaf orphanage. There were so many victims there. And it wasn't the church that exposed it and stopped it. It was the government that stepped in.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And — but how can you be sure that law enforcement is going to move in, because, in so many countries, the Catholic Church is a very — has extraordinary power?

  • Becky Ianni:

    There are no guarantees.

    But, you know, we haven't seen the church do anything either. And I think that — I hope that church does something, but we have not seen the church take actions. And it is worrisome in some of the countries where the Catholic officials are so ingrained with the police and so forth.

    But, you know, we as an organization can hope to continue to hold them accountable and to do what we can to protect children.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just very quickly, are you and others in your organization, other organizations who represent survivors speaking now to the Vatican to let them know what you think about this meeting?

  • Becky Ianni:


    And we sent Pope Francis a letter before it started. And we outlined five things that we wanted him to do. And so he already has those five things, and we'd like to see him still do them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Becky Ianni with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, thank you very much.

  • Becky Ianni:

    I thank you for having me.

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