Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Vatican's Summit On Clergy Sex Abuse Left Many Survivors Disappointed


Six months ago, a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed the names of more than 300 priests accused of sexually abusing children in that state. That helped bring about the summit on clergy abuse at the Vatican that wrapped up yesterday. It was watched closely by Catholics in Pennsylvania, as Amy Sisk from member station WESA in Pittsburgh reports.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Gloria, Gloria, Gloria.

AMY SISK, BYLINE: Father Frank Almade leads the service at St. John Fisher Parish. He's been a priest for 40 years. When Mass wraps up, he tells me he knew several of the clergy members named in the grand jury report.

FRANK ALMADE: So it hits me and hits my generation really hard.

SISK: In some parts of the world, bishops are skeptical that abuse happens in their dioceses. Almade says he hopes the summit will change that.

ALMADE: But it is an awareness at the highest level of our church and the heads of bishops' conferences around the world that they go back to their areas, wherever they may be, and say, brothers and sisters, this is a real problem that we have to address.

SISK: At the summit, victims, laypeople and church leaders railed against the church hiding crimes and silencing victims. Almade says it's not just their voices that might change minds.

ALMADE: It's probably the quiet conversations that are happening in the small groups around the table, in the coffee bars, and among the bishops and maybe others going out to dinner and talking about this.

SISK: Still, the summit left some Pittsburgh-area Catholics, like Ryan O'Connor (ph), wanting more action. O'Connor was 9 years old when he says his parish priest first abused him. He's 46 now, still a practicing Catholic. He shows me a crucifix, Jesus on a cross, hanging on a wall of his family's house.

RYAN O'CONNOR: Sometimes when you need a reminder, you look up and there he is. Always knowing that he's got my back.

SISK: Even when the news coming out of the Vatican isn't all O'Connor hoped for. The summit ended with no concrete plan detailing the church's next steps.

O'CONNOR: Frankly, we've had enough of talk. We want action. We want true accountability.

SISK: One way, he says, would be for the church to support extending statutes of limitations for sexual abuse. It can take decades for abuse victims to come forward, if they ever do.

O'CONNOR: The perception of the church, I believe, will change greatly if they allow us to stand in front of our perpetrators and truly, truly take our lives back.

SISK: One young Pittsburgh Catholic says the church needs to identify and sanction clergy members involved in cover-ups. Here's 22-year-old Thomas Michael (ph).

THOMAS MICHAEL: I think if this can ultimately lead up to, like, a really big investigation, I think that'll be phenomenal.

SISK: The summit focused largely on crimes against minors. Michael says it did not cover the entirety of the abuse problem. The pope recently defrocked a former cardinal after accusations that he abused seminarians and young priests.

MICHAEL: I was hoping they would talk more about that 'cause that seems to be, like, a big part of the sex abuse crisis. It's kind of this elephant in the room.

SISK: Meanwhile, Michael will continue to pray for the victims, for the perpetrators and for Pope Francis to fix these problems. For NPR News, I'm Amy Sisk in Pittsburgh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Amy Sisk covers energy for WESA and StateImpact Pennsylvania, a public media collaboration focused on energy. She moved to Pennsylvania in 2017 from another energy-rich state, North Dakota, where she often reported from coal mines, wind farms and the oil patch. While there, she worked for NPR member station Prairie Public Broadcasting and the Inside Energy public media collaboration. She spent eight months following the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, her work frequently airing on NPR and other outlets. Amy loves traveling to rural communities -- she visited 217 small towns on the Dakota prairie -- and also covers rural issues here in southwestern Pennsylvania.