Vatican summit a 'public relations stunt,' say Australian victims and families

Australian abuse survivors and their families have labelled the Vatican meeting on clerical sexual abuse a "publicity stunt."

Abuse advocate Chrissie Foster called the Vatican summit a "publicity stunt."

Abuse advocate Chrissie Foster called the Vatican summit a "publicity stunt." Source: SBS

It was was flagged as a landmark summit, but Australian survivors of clerical abuse and their families say the four-day meeting at the Vatican failed to achieve anything meaningful.

"The summit, to me was publicity stunt," abuse advocate Chrissie Foster told SBS News.

Ms Foster, whose two daughters were raped by a priest at their Catholic primary school in Melbourne said she's been let down by the Church too many times.

"I'm just so over it." 

She believes the meeting is just the latest example of the Vatican's all talk and no action approach.

Action, she says, would involve the release of secret church files on clergy who have committed or covered up abuse.

"They need to be honest and open, their secret archives, hand them over to the police, worldwide. Hand them over, reform yourselves, do the right thing."

Abuse survivor and advocate Mark Fabrro agrees, saying the release of the archives could pave the way for meaningful justice.

Abuse survivor and advocate Mark Fabrro created this sculpture as part of his healing process.
Abuse survivor and advocate Mark Fabrro created this sculpture as part of his healing process. Source: SBS

"I don't think it's landmark at all, it's the same rhetoric where the Catholic Church and the Vatican, particularly, want to pacify and get the believers, the flock to believe that something is changing for the better," he told SBS News.

"Until they start really prosecuting those responsible for the cover-up, I don't think we're going to see a lot of change."

Hope that this could have been a result of the summit was dealt a set back when, on the penultimate day of a summit, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx said there were no records. 

"Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created," he told the gathering of Bishops. 

While delivering the explosive comments, Cardinal Marx, asked for more transparency - something the Australian Catholic Church says it is also pushing for.

Anthony Randazzo, an Auxiliary Bishop from the Archdiocese of Sydney says he plans to take that message to the Vatican later this year.

"We've been working very strongly to ensure we're accountable here and we will have a meeting in Rome later in the year, and I hope to raise that issue there as well to support the openness and transparency of what we are already doing." 

While the Vatican summit was underway in Rome, a new crop of men entered the priesthood in Sydney – bringing the total number of seminarians to 54 – the city’s highest number in a decade.

During these turbulent times, Bishop Anthony Randazzo says it’s a sign of hope for the Church's future in Australia, particularly as it applies a fresh approach to the way priests are trained.

"The process of training and formation that we have is a positive step forward, that our priests are well prepared to care for the people.," he told SBS News.

"We initially look at screening and psychological testing of our candidates to professionals outside of the church.  This whole area of abuse has made us look even more closely at what we're doing.

But not close enough for people like Chrissie Foster, who doubts she'll see meaningful change in her lifetime. 

3 min read
Published 25 February 2019 at 6:32pm
By Abbie O'Brien