The Latest: Vatican thanks sex abuse survivors for testimonies

(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) Pope Francis sits in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican during his weekly general audience, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.

Vatican City • The Latest on the Vatican summit on dealing with sex abuse of minors (all times local):

4:50 p.m.

Organizers of Pope Francis’ summit on sex abuse are thanking victims for their sincerity and strength in offering their testimonies and advice for ending abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church.

In a statement from the Vatican press office, members of the organizing committee said the two-hour meeting Wednesday with a dozen abuse survivors helped them to understand the “gravity and urgency” of the problem.

The survivors represented various different victim advocacy groups including SNAP, the global group ECA, and France’s “La Parole Liberee,” which has been at the forefront in recent criminal cases of abuse and cover-up.

The summit organizing committee was made up of Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s longtime lead sex abuse investigator; Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias; German Jesuit the Rev. Hans Zollner, an expert in child protection; and the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the former Vatican spokesman who is moderating the summit.

4:20 p.m.

Survivors of sexual abuse who met with the organizers of a Vatican summit on abuse are demanding transparency and true accountability for religious superiors who protect priests who rape and molest children.

A dozen survivors met for more than two hours Wednesday with five key figures in Pope Francis’ summit, which begins Thursday.

Speaking to reporters afterward, U.S. survivor Phil Saviano said he had urged the Vatican to release names of abusive priests around the world and their files so victims can know what became of their cases and other children can be protected from them.

Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who organized the meeting, said the group demanded “radical change” in the way the Vatican handles abuse and for it to apply zero tolerance around the globe.

He said: “The culture of cover-up needs to end.”

2 p.m.

A dozen survivors of clergy sexual abuse are meeting with organizers of Pope Francis’ landmark summit on preventing abuse and protecting children.

Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who was asked by the Vatican to invite survivors to the meeting, told reporters Wednesday that Francis would not be attending, as had been rumored.

The meeting, with members of the U.S. group SNAP and the global survivor advocacy group ECA, was taking place at a residence near the Vatican.

It is designed to give these activist groups a chance to voice their demands for an end to the cover-up of clergy abuse, the need to listen to survivors and hold the church hierarchy accountable.

Other survivors will be addressing the summit itself, which gets underway Thursday.

11:55 a.m.

Pope Francis says that those who are constantly attacking the church are linked to the devil.

Francis on Wednesday told pilgrims from southern Italy that the church’s “defects” must be denounced to correct them.

But he said that those who do so without love and spend their lives “accusing” the church are either the devil’s friends or relatives.

Francis spoke on the eve of a Vatican summit on clergy sex abuse and cover-ups by the church’s hierarchy.

Detractors, including a former Vatican ambassador to the United States, have accused him of not properly dealing with top prelates and priests who were suspected abusers.

Francis didn’t cite specific accusations nor mention the summit in his remarks.

He told the pilgrims that the Bible calls the devil the “great accuser.” He added that “we are all sinners, some big” sinners.

11:20 a.m.

The author of an explosive book on gays in the Vatican says the culture of secrecy that has hidden the double lives of clergy is intrinsically linked to the culture of cover-up about sexual abuse of minors.

Frederic Martel, a French gay rights activist and author of “In the Closet of the Vatican,” told a news conference Wednesday that studies have long shown that being gay is not a risk factor for committing sexual abuse.

But he said the culture of secrecy about priests’ homosexuality had contributed to the abuse scandal.

Speaking at the Foreign Press Association, Martel said: “The problem is that some abusers that commit crimes within the church were protected by this culture of secrecy that was mainly to protect homosexuality.”

Martel’s book comes out Thursday as Pope Francis opens a Vatican summit on preventing sexual abuse.

9:50 a.m.

Pope Francis is summoning church leaders from around the world this week for a tutorial on how to deal with cases of sex abuse by clergy.

Many Catholic church leaders around the world continue to protect the church’s reputation by denying that priests rape children and by discrediting victims, and the pope himself admits to having made similar mistakes.

But Francis has done an about-face and is bringing the rest of the church leadership along with him at the extraordinary summit starting Thursday.

The meeting will bring together some 190 presidents of bishops’ conferences, religious orders and Vatican offices lectures and workshops on preventing sex abuse in their churches, tending to victims, and investigating abuse.

Survivors will be meeting with summit organizers and the bishops themselves ahead of the summit.