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Vatican Sex Abuse Summit Continues


The mandatory summit convened by Pope Francis is going on with bishops around the world in Rome. We're joined now by Monsignor Stephen Rossetti of the Catholic University of America. Monsignor, thanks for being back with us.

STEPHEN ROSETTI: Good morning, Scott. It's good to be back.

SIMON: Over the past few days, we've heard emotional and moving testimony from survivors of sexual abuse and also strong condemnation of high church level officials and vows to change. Does the church really want to change?

ROSETTI: Yes. I mean, it has the will to change, I think, and especially Pope Francis. I mean, here's a guy who gets it. And that - the board that's - the committee that's running it, you know, Cardinal Cupich, Cardinal Gracias and Archbishop Scicluna - I mean, these guys are totally committed. But it's like moving a glacier. I mean, the Vatican has been working in a mode of secrecy for centuries. And you've got a church that's around the world in many different cultures. And many of the people in that conference are wondering, you know, why they're there. I mean, they say, well, we don't have this problem. So you're talking about moving a glacier, and this is an important step forward, but it's not over.

SIMON: You - let me point to a phrase you use - these guys who run it. Is that part of the problem? Because new allegations have come out from nuns who say they were abused by priests. I'm sure you agree it's reprehensible and criminal.

ROSETTI: Oh, yeah, it's terrible.

SIMON: But although there are many accomplished and influential nuns, the church still makes male clerics, bishops and cardinals and leaders. Why doesn't it open to the leadership of women?

ROSETTI: Well - and the pope - and that was actually yesterday's - day two's - one of the major themes was including the laity in review boards and in leadership positions. Dr. Linda Ghisoni gave a great talk. But as she said, you know, we need to include women, we need to include laity, but don't think that's going to solve the problem completely. It's a step forward, and the pope emphasized it.

SIMON: German cardinal at the summit said the church files about abusers had been destroyed to keep those issues from coming to light. This seems to be symbolic of a lot of cover-ups over the years, doesn't it?

ROSETTI: Well, again, a cover-ups a word that people love to use, and I understand it. But the way I think of it is the church really has always dealt with things quietly and secretly, frankly, the pontifical secret, you know...

SIMON: But that's not a cover-up?

ROSETTI: Well, I mean, it depends on how you talk about it. I mean, the basic approach is that people I think want their - on most issues, want the church to be discreet. But on this issue, it doesn't work. And that's what the church is finding out, that transparency is necessary. And that was one of the big code words for yesterday, that transparency is required and the only way you're going to deal with this issue.

SIMON: I've got to ask you a high hard one, as they call it in baseball, Monsignor. Can you understand if a number of faithful Catholics stand up during Mass tomorrow and tell their priest, look; I'm sorry, father, but what moral authority do you or does the church have to tell me anything when it's hurt so many people who loved it and concealed those crimes for decades?

ROSETTI: You know, I certainly understand it. That was what Cardinal Cupich said, actually. He said that if the church doesn't get this right, its moral authority is shot. And so why we're having a global summit on an issue that the church says this is in the front burner and we - they don't do global summits on anything. So the church is trying to say, yeah, this is important, and if we don't get this right, it's over.

SIMON: Are you concerned the church is going to lose its moral authority over this issue or has already lost its moral authority?

ROSETTI: Well, I'm sure it has. It has with many people. There's no question about it. And right - and I think the church has a responsibility, say, to clean up its own act before it tells other people how to act. I totally agree with that.

SIMON: Monsignor Stephen Rossetti of the Catholic University of America, thanks so much for being with us.

ROSETTI: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.