Victims of clergy sexual abuse demand mandatory reporting to police

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"Upon our meeting lays a burden of pastoral and ecclesial responsibility that compels us to discuss together, in a frank and in-depth way, how to tackle this evil that afflicts the church and humankind at large," Pope Francis told leaders of the Catholic Church Thursday morning as he opened an International Summit on how to deal with sex abuse scandals rocking the church.

A Wichita activist says she's happy the pope is recognizing the church has a problem, but now victims want action.

"I call it third degree burns of the soul," Janet Patterson says about the psychological injuries victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests have to deal with.  "Maybe they can't see those burns, but they hurt and they hurt constantly."

Patterson has spent the last nineteen years working with survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.  She does it in part, because it's something she wasn't able to offer her own son, Eric.

"He had been sexually abused at the age of 12 by his parish priest in the Wichita diocese," she said.  

After years of dealing with extreme depression and just months after telling his parents what had happened, Eric Patterson took his own life in 2000.  He was 29-years-old.

Suicide is something Janet Patterson says many survivors at least attempt, thinking they're at fault for the abuse.

"I think of these people as the Teflon people because everything seems to bounce off them and onto the survivor, the person who's been abused," Patterson said. 

She's hopeful this week's international summit at the Vatican will change things for victims, those who've come forward and those who are still in hiding.  

This meeting with nearly 200 of the church's top leaders could be a good thing, she says, because, in some ways, the solution needs to come from the top, from the leaders she says are themselves often the problem.

"I've found that many times those who get advanced to bishops and on have themselves been the keepers of the secret," she said.  "I think the problem is that you don't protect the little ones, you don't protect who you're supposed to and you freely let the wolves walk around."

That was the case with her son's abuse, Patterson explained, and with many of the survivors she's worked with over the years.

"To our horror we discovered that the higher ups had full knowledge that the guy was a pedophile before they sent him to our parish," she said about her son's abuser.  

He was so blatant, she said, they discovered a photo after their son's death where the priest's hand is resting on the then 12-year-old's buttock.  She says priest sex abuse is still a problem in Kansas.  

"The Wichita Diocese has had its share and there are several people that have never been held accountable."

Thursday, the pope presented 21 points of reflection to guide discussion over the next three days. These points include everything from raising the minimum age girls can marry from 14 to 16 to establishing protocols for handling sex abuse accusations against clergy, even at the highest levels.  

After Pope Francis opened the summit, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, spoke to the assembly about healing and justice for the victims.

"The abuse of minors by ordained ministers has inflicted wounds not only on the victims, but also on their families, the clergy, the church, the wider society, the perpetrators themselves and the bishops," he said.  "But it is also true, we humbly and sorrowfully admit, that wounds have been inflicted by us bishops on the victims and, in fact, the entire body of Christ."

Patterson says she feels betrayed by the Catholic Church, which she'd considered to be part of her family.  She can no longer bring herself to enter a Catholic church.

As part of the discussions Thursday, the church leaders watched video testimonies of clergy sexual abuse from male and female victims from around the world .

"Our lack of response to the suffering of victims," Tagle said Thursday in Rome, "even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution has injured our people, leaving a deep wound in the relationship with those we are sent to serve."
The summit centers on three themes: responsibility, accountability and transparency.  

Patterson says she hopes to see one thing come from this summit - mandatory reporting of sex abuse accusations to local police.

"Christ was not namby-pamby.  He said it like it was.  And he didn't say just talk to the person that's been hurting a child.  No, take action," she explained

Many doubt that mandatory reporting requirement will happen given the death penalties attached to sexual crimes in some countries where the church operates.  Patterson says she's praying the Catholic church will figure out a way around that.

"I wouldn't want to put this out of the reach of all the survivors because of a handful that are in terrible countries where they don't have rights and freedoms like we do here," she said.  "But I'm very happy about it being reported to civil authorities here because that's where it should have been all along.  Because it's a crime and no other crime is reported to the bishop."