Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich, has told 190 church leaders gathered in Rome that procedures to investigate and punish paedophile priests had often been ignored.
“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created,” he said.
Australia’s Royal Commission found “secrecy prevailed” in the Catholic Church, and documents on abuse allegations were often not kept.
The cardinal’s comments infuriated many survivors of abuse whose perpetrators were moved from parish to parish across the globe.
Peter Isely, from Ending Clergy Abuse, questioned if cardinals had referred bishops who covered up crimes to civil authorities.
“They have destroyed criminal evidence of children that were raped. Cardinal Marx knows who it is,” he said.
The Vatican has various agencies to investigate crimes, but Cardinal Marx criticised the use of the “pontifical secret” for some cases.
“The Church must not operate below the quality standards of public administration of justice, if it doesn’t want to face criticism that it has an inferior legal system that’s harmful to people,” he said.
Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said he was aware of a “backlog” of cases that had been referred to investigators at the Vatican, including some from Australia.
“I do know there has been something of a bottleneck … in a sense I think they’ve been swamped, they’ve asked for all of these cases to go to Rome.”
The most stirring address at the Pope’s
meeting on the protection of minors was delivered by one of the few women invited to participate.
Nigerian nun Sister Veronica Openibo said the Catholic Church must face up to its failings.
“We must acknowledge that our mediocrity, hypocrisy and complacency have brought us to this disgraceful and scandalous place we find ourselves as a church,” she said.
Sister Openibo blasted the church for parading itself as “the custodians of moral standards” when cases of abuse of children had been hushed up around the world. Why did we keep silent for so long?”
The stories of women who have been sexually abused in the church are coming to light, including the rape of nuns.
Sister Openibo said “gender discrimination, the role of women” had been overlooked in the church.
At the opening of the summit, an unidentified woman from Africa told her story to bishops and said she fell pregnant three times to a priest who raped her over the course of 13 years.
“I feel I have a life destroyed,” she said.
Veteran Vatican journalist Valentina Alazraki also addressed bishops telling them that the media would continue to be their “worst nightmare” if they did not confront the crisis.
Alessandro Battaglia was just 15 when a priest took advantage of his innocence. Photo: ABCMany times during this weekend’s summit in Rome, Alessandro Battaglia has broken down over the memories of his abuse.
He was 15 when a priest abused him, and the man was recently found guilty in an Italian court. From Milan, Mr Battaglia came to Rome to meet with other survivors of clergy abuse to protest against the church’s response to the crisis in Italy.
“They want to put their reputation in front of the life of the children. It’s a criminal way to live,” he said.
The 23-year-old said his country had been slow to act because of Italy’s deep historic ties to the Roman Catholic Church.
“It is different in Italy because we have the Vatican just right here,” he said.
“The families, the people in every part of Italy are Catholic, we have the church right in our house.”
On the sidelines of the landmark summit, hundreds of Catholics have come to Rome to urge Pope Francis to include more lay people and women in decision making.
American women from the Catholic Worker Movement made a pilgrimage to pray for survivors, including Claire Schaeffer-Duffy from Massachusetts.
“It’s a gesture of faith as a survivor to be here and say [to the church] you need to face this,” she said.
“Because if you had no faith you wouldn’t come, you’d say forget them they’re just a doomed lot, I’ll walk away.”