Pope urged to counter resistance to tackling abuse on eve of Irish visit


DUBLIN (Reuters) – Pope Francis faced calls on the eve of a highly-charged visit to Ireland to counter resistance within the Catholic Church against tackling clerical sex abuse, including from a member of a group advising him on the crisis.

“There is a need to change the culture in the church. If it’s not changed, this is going to continue,” Gabriel Dy-Liacco, who sits on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told a news conference in Dublin on Friday.

His comments were echoed by Marie Collins, an Irish abuse survivor who resigned in protest last year from the commission that Francis set up in 2014. She urged the Pope to take strong action against the perpetrators and those who protect them, including by removing top clerics if necessary.

Francis begins on Saturday the first papal visit in nearly 40 years to Ireland, a country devastated by clerical abuse, as scandals in several countries mire the Church in its worst credibility crisis in more than 15 years.

A damning report last week into abuse in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, combined with scandals in Australia and Chile, have formed what one Vatican official called “a perfect storm” not seen since the first abuse crisis erupted in Boston in 2002.

Dy-Liacco said bishops who have been preventing progress on the issue were coming around to accepting the need for action, but the process has been painfully slow.

A psychotherapist from the Philippines, he was speaking after a panel discussion in Dublin on safeguarding children at the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families.

Vatican watchers say most of the resistance has come from some bishops, particularly older ones, who feel they would be judged by today’s standards for practices that were common decades ago. These included moving predator priests to other posts or easing them out of the Church quietly to avoid public scandal.

“I think at this point the Pope really needs to face down this resistance. If it means removing people in high office, then that is what he must do,” said Collins, who quit the commission over what she called “shameful” resistance within the Vatican.

“Every day children are being abused so every day that goes by and those who protect abusers are not properly dealt with, more and more children are being harmed when they don’t need to be. It’s time for the Pope to take strong action.”

The Pope’s plan for a special tribunal in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to judge bishops suspected of mishandling abuse cases or covering them up failed to get off the ground because of bureaucratic delays and legal technicalities.

Francis instead issued an edict in 2016 tasking four Vatican departments with oversight of bishops to examine evidence and make recommendations to the pope, who could then demand their resignation.

While some victims’ groups saw the lack of a specific tribunal as a product of resistance from the Vatican’s old guard, others said the procedure outlined in the edict could be more rapid than the tribunal.

Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome; editing by David Stamp