Concrete changes are coming from women, not from the hierarchy.
As the anti-abuse summit of the Presidents of Bishops' Conferences ends in Rome, the consensus emerges that the most powerful voices belonged to the survivors gathered in Rome, and the few women whose voices were heard in and around the Vatican.
But the question still remains: Will anything change?
Virginia Saldanha who has been a leading figure in the Asian Church for decades, observed: “It seems that some bishops just came to the realization at this summit meeting that sex abuse of children and vulnerable adults was a crime."
The final remarks of Pope Francis paled in comparison with the clarity and concrete steps heard from Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki, Nigerian Sr. Veronica Openibo, and Vatican Undersecretary Linda Ghisoni. They demonstrated not just the inexcusable nature of the crimes committed but also the practical steps that need to be taken for real change to happen.
Since his closing statement on Sunday, the Pope has been criticised for his attempt to widen the scope of attention from abuse in the Church to the global atrocities committed against children. Barbara Doris, abuse survivor and long-time advocate, prefers to focus on law enforcement and adherence of the Church to the laws of the land: "It is time for civil authorities to treat church officials as they would any other person, to investigate their crimes and hold them accountable according to the laws of the land. The excessive deference that has been shown to church officials must stop.“
In the past days, it became obvious that addressing and preventing the abuse of women religious is the next important opportunity for Catholic officials to be pro-active and show that they have truly learned from the disasters of the past months, years and decades.
Doris Wagner, abuse survivor and former religious sister stated: "I am delighted to see that some bishops seem to have understood that a fundamental change in the Church’s power structure is needed. Concrete measure have to follow now, so that we get a system of checks and balances. We need women on eye-level with men in the Church at all levels, and I hope this will be the last predominantly male summit in the Vatican."
Many women were bewildered and hurt by the off-the-cuff comment of Pope Francis reinforcing his earlier description of feminism as “machismo with a skirt.” Women continue to ask themselves if they have the energy to keep struggling for an equal and safe Catholic Church. The summit has proven that if we want change, we cannot wait for the hierarchy to deliver it. We have to speak up boldly and continue supporting each other in our vision of equality.
The next opportunity for a visible change is six months from now at the Synod on Amazonia in October 2019 - it is time that women participate and vote on an equal footing with men.
All faithful who want to publicly show their commitment to change are invited to join the Overcoming Silence campaign and share their message of equality with our leaders. Please visit: www.overcomingsilence.com.