A group of Catholic Church abuse victims and their advocates on Wednesday called on Pope Francis to enforce “zero tolerance” against clerical sex abuse, after completing a six-day pilgrimage to Rome carrying a large wooden cross.
The 10 men and women walked 81 miles along the last stretch of the Via Francigena, a medieval trail that connects Canterbury, England, to Rome, ahead of a major Vatican summit on the future of the Church, starting next week.
The pilgrimage “shows the determination of survivors to come to deliver their message to Pope Francis ... that there must be a universal law of the church of zero tolerance,” said U.S. attorney Timothy Law, co-founder of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA).
“Anything less than that is not adequate,” he said.
Sex abuse and cover-up scandals have shredded the Catholic Church’s reputation and have been a major challenge for the pope, who has passed a series of measures aimed at holding the Church hierarchy more accountable, with mixed results.
Law said ECA wants Francis to mandate the immediate removal from ministry of priests suspected of abuse, the firing of bishops guilty of cover-ups, and the mandatory reporting of abuse cases to civilian, rather than religious, authorities.
Francis has promised “zero tolerance” in relation to church abuse but critics say his reforms and guidelines have not gone far enough and have been adopted unevenly by national Catholic Churches.
ECA activists came to Rome in the run-up to the synod, an Oct. 4-29 Vatican meeting of world bishops. It is due to discuss, among other things, giving women a greater role in the Church, and the approach towards LGBTQ+ people.
“I don’t know how you can move into a future if you have not solved the criminal problem of (predator) priests and cover-up by the hierarchy in the Catholic Church,” Peter Isely, another U.S.-based member of ECA, said about the synod.