By Nicole Winfield
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis’ high-stakes sex abuse prevention summit is meant to call attention to the crisis as a global problem that requires a global response.
His decision was sparked by the realization that in many parts of the world, bishops and religious superiors continue to deny or play down the severity of the scandal and protect their priests and the reputation of the church at all costs.
Much of the developing world has largely escaped a public explosion of the scandal, as have conflict zones and countries where Catholics are a minority.
But even majority Catholic countries have lagged. Just this week, the online resource BishopAccountability listed Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Congo and a handful of other heavily Catholic countries as places where the church leadership has failed to respond adequately when priests rape and molest children.
Some countries where the scandal has played out visibly in recent years:
Francis’ home country is beginning to see an eruption of the scandal, with some cases even implicating the pontiff himself.
As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Francis played a decisive and divisive role in Argentina’s most famous abuse case, commissioning a four-volume, 2,000-plus page forensic study of the legal case against a convicted priest that concluded he was innocent, that his victims were lying and that the case never should have gone to trial.
Despite the study, Argentina’s Supreme Court in 2017 upheld the conviction and 15-year prison sentence for the Rev. Giulio Grassi, a celebrity priest who ran homes for street children across Argentina.
More recently, an Argentine bishop close to Francis, Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, was placed under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct. Francis had brought Zanchetta to the Vatican and given him a high-ranking job after he resigned suddenly from his post in 2017. The Vatican insists no allegation of sexual abuse was lodged until last year, but local church officials said they raised the alarm about inappropriate behavior in 2015.
Australia’s Catholic Church has a horrific abuse record, which in part prompted the government to launch a four-year national investigation into all forms of institutional abuse — Catholic and otherwise.
The landmark survey found 4,444 people were abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions between 1980 and 2015.
The Royal Commission investigation, Australia’s highest form of inquiry, deduced that 7 percent of Catholic priests in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of sexually abusing children.
Francis discovered first-hand just how pervasive clerical sex abuse is — and how effectively it has been covered up by the Catholic hierarchy — when in January 2018 he branded as “calumny” accusations of cover-up against a Chilean bishop he had strongly defended.
After realizing his error, Francis did an about-face: He ordered a Vatican investigation, apologized in person to the victims he had discredited, and strong-armed the entire Chilean hierarchy to tender their resignations.
It wasn’t enough. Chilean criminal prosecutors have staged a series of raids on the church’s secret archives to seize documents. They have opened more than 100 investigations into abusive priests and have questioned the current and former archbishops of Santiago about allegations they covered up the crimes.
One of France’s most prominent cardinals, Philippe Barbarin, went on trial this year on charges he covered up for a known pedophile. Prosecutors, however, have asked for the case to be dropped since the statute of limitations has expired.
Barbarin and five other French defendants were accused of knowing that the Rev. Bernard Preynat sexually abused young scouts but didn’t report him to police. Preynat, now in his 70s, has confessed in letters to victims’ parents and meetings with his superiors, including Barbarin.
Barbarin, 67, has admitted to “mistakes” in the management and nominations of priests, but has denied any attempt to cover up the Preynat case.
In September, the German Catholic Church released a devastating report that concluded at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014.
More than half the victims were 13 or younger and most were boys. Every sixth case involved rape and at least 1,670 clergy were involved. Some 969 abuse victims were altar boys.
While the report was an effort at transparency, the researchers who compiled it complained they didn’t have access to original files, and said there was evidence that some files were manipulated or destroyed.