Activists chide pope over handling of sex abuse and cover-ups

By Matteo Negri

ROME (Reuters) - Pope Francis has not done enough to stamp out clerical sex abuse and its cover-up, activists and abuse survivors said on Thursday, protesting before a Vatican-hosted World Children's Day festival.

The Roman Catholic Church has been shaken by sexual abuse scandals around the world. Francis has tried to impose order, but his critics say more should have been done to root out abusive clergy and help their many victims.

"We want to protect young people who are attending" the festival, said Matthias Katsch, co-founder of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), in a press conference by the ancient Roman Castel Sant'Angelo fortress, in view of St Peter's Basilica.

He noted that anti-Church abuse activists visited Rome in September to demand "zero tolerance" ahead of a major Vatican summit on the future of the Church, "but nothing has happened since".

Specifically, Katsch accused Francis of failing to punish cardinals and bishops "who covered up sex crimes".

In an interview aired this month with U.S. network CBS' "60 Minutes" programme, Francis reiterated his commitment to fight against abusers and their protectors.

"It cannot be tolerated. When there is a case of a religious man or woman who abuses, the full force of the law falls upon them. In this there has been a great deal of progress," the pontiff said.


One of the survivors who took part in Thursday's protest was Italian Antonio Messina, who was abused by a priest as a teenager and who accuses his local bishop of covering up for the perpetrator.

In March, a court in Sicily sentenced the priest to four and a half years in prison in a first-instance ruling that can be appealed.

According to activists, the case of Messina, who is now in his 30s, is not a one-off.

Peter Isely, another ECA co-founder, said some delegations attending the festival "will be led by bishops who have been proven to cover up sex crimes against children".

The World's Children's Day is scheduled to take place on May 25-26 and will involve tens of thousands of children from more than 100 nations. Francis is expected to meet them at Rome's main soccer stadium and in St Peter's Square.

(Reporting by Matteo Negri, editing by Alvise Armellini and Nick Macfie)