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Pope Francis slammed by victims over sexual abuse scandal

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Pope Francis is facing yet more criticism over the "glacial" speed in his handling of the sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is facing yet more criticism over the "glacial" speed in his handling of the sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the Catholic Church.
By James Masters and Judith Vonberg CNN

(CNN) -- Pope Francis is facing yet more criticism over the "glacial" speed in his handling of the sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the Catholic Church.

The day after the Pope summoned the church's top officials from across the world to the Vatican for a February meeting to discuss the problem, Mark Vincent Healy, the first male survivor of Irish clerical sex abuse to meet with Francis, told CNN he believes the Vatican is on an "inescapable trajectory."

While the Pope has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks with cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church making headlines across the world, Healy says the Pope's lack of action has left survivors fearing that little punishment will be handed out to those responsible.

"Pope Francis has had since March 2013, when he was elected, time to deal with the scandal of clergy child sexual abuse," Healy told CNN.

"From around the world inquiries have reported their findings and received commentary in countless reports, audits, films, documentaries, media flashes and bursts. All the while the Vatican moves at a glacial pace to 'address' the scandal with words of apology and acknowledgment of the harm done.

"Clichés come to mind like 'too little too late,' 'action not words,' 'conferences within the religious not consultations with survivors' and so on."

Healy is not alone in his assessment of the announcement of the summit, with other survivors questioning why the process has taken so long.

"How much time is necessary? Will it takes decades or centuries?" Colm O'Gorman, a survivor of clerical abuse and executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, told CNN.

"It's terribly simple. Catholic clergy have raped, sexually assaulted and otherwise abused hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people across the world. The Catholic Church, at a global level, knew about these crimes, has known about them for millennia. But its approach has always been to keep those crimes secret.

"To rape a child is an incredibly serious crime. To cover it up is, and should be, a very serious crime."

The Pope is also facing pressure in Germany after it was revealed that the German Catholic Church will admit to "at least" 3,766 cases of child sex abuse by the clergy between 1946 and 2014. The revelation came in an upcoming report that leaked to local media outlets Die Zeit and Spiegel Online.

But wider coverage in the German media has been muted, with the news appearing in the inner pages of many leading publications.

In a response to the report, Bishop Stephan Ackermann released a written statement to CNN saying the church was "dismayed and ashamed" by the findings.

A group representing victims of abuse by the Catholic Church in Germany issued a statement Thursday calling for an independent investigation.

"This study shows us only a part of reality. Files were destroyed. Many cases have not been properly documented," Matthias Katsch, the spokesperson for the Eckinger Tisch group, said in a statement.

"Above all, it lacks the testimony of the victims. There were no witnesses, no possibility to search directly into the archives for cross-referencing, patterns of abuse and those who knew about it," the statement added.

"We do not have the names of the perpetrators. No responsible bishops are identified, those who have constructed and perfected this system of sexual assault and its cover-up for decades," it added.

"Now it is clear: an organization of perpetrators and conspirators cannot reform itself."

Pressure has been growing on the Pope in recent weeks with the church in the US facing allegations of sexual abuse on several fronts.

The pontiff met with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, on Thursday to discuss allegations that a former top American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, sexually abused seminarians and an altar boy.

McCarrick, who has denied the accusations about the altar boy and not responded to the allegations about the seminarians, resigned from his position in July.

The allegations, as well as an explosive letter from a former papal diplomat, have raised serious questions among senior church leaders about why McCarrick was allowed to rise through the church's ranks, as well as who knew about the accusations.

That all comes on top of a 900-page investigative report released last month by a grand jury in Pennsylvania that found that more than 300 priests had sexually abused more than 1,000 children in six dioceses since 1947, often while church leaders covered up the crimes.

In an August 16 public letter, DiNardo said the bishops' executive committee had three goals: opening an investigation "into the questions surrounding" McCarrick; opening "new and confidential channels" for reporting complaints about bishops' misconduct; and advocating for more effective ways to resolve future complaints.

Some of the steps DiNardo is seeking -- such as an "apostolic visitation," an investigation into McCarrick led by the Vatican -- require Vatican approval. DiNardo has said lay people should be involved in the investigation as well.

"We are grateful to the Holy Father for receiving us in audience," DiNardo said in a statement after the meeting Thursday.

"We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States -- how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart. It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.

"As we departed the audience, we prayed the Angelus together for God's mercy and strength as we work to heal the wounds. We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps."

The US bishops next meet as a body in November in Baltimore, where they are expected to debate and vote on DiNardo's plans.

The Pope is also facing criticism from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who says the pontiff was made aware of alleged sexual abuse by McCarrick as early as 2013, and subsequently failed to act.

An open letter published on Catholic Women's Forum, which calls on the Pope to respond to allegations by Viganò surrounding the sexual abuse scandal, has gained more than 44,000 signatures in just under two weeks.

In a further blow, a CNN Poll conducted by SSRS before the Pope called the February meeting concluded that the pontiff's favorability ratings have nosedived dramatically.

Close to half of Americans -- 48% -- say they have a favorable view of the Pope, down from two-thirds who said the same in January 2017 and 72% who said so in December 2013, a few months after he was first elevated to the position.

Specifically among US Catholics, his ratings have fallen from 83% favorability a year and a half ago to 63% now -- a 20-point drop.

CNN's Daniel Burke, Grace Sparks and Atika Shubert contributed to this report.

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