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Survivors plan to give pope ultimatum at clergy sex abuse summit

CBS News logo CBS News 2/20/2019 CBSNews
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Shaun Dougherty never imagined his very personal crusade against Catholic clergy sexual abuse would lead him to the Vatican. He traveled about 4,000 miles from Pennsylvania for an unprecedented meeting between bishops and survivors of alleged clergy sexual abuse in Vatican City.

He and 11 other survivors from around the world are urging the Catholic Church to have a zero-tolerance policy for abuse. CBS News' Nikki Battiste spoke to Dougherty just before he walked into the meeting. He told her he's feeling relaxed and focused and plans to give a strong but respectful message.

He said he's waited years for this moment and that he wants to give the Catholic Church one last chance but looking up at St. Peter's Basilica, Dougherty said "that's just a dome to me."

"I was abused at 10 years old. I never had the opportunity to fully believe in God," he said.

He's there for only one reason: to get the abuse of children to stop.   Since Battiste first met Dougherty last August, he's fought for statute of limitations reform across Pennsylvania and confronted the former priest he says molested him. Wednesday's meeting is the pinnacle in his fight for justice.


Asked if he feels like he's carrying the weight of thousands of survivors, he said "I know I am."

"They're carrying me … so many people did so much more than me … I'm thrilled to be a part of this now," Dougherty said. Survivor Peter Isely – who alleges he was sexually abused by a priest in Wisconsin at age 13 – said their group's message to Pope Francis is clear.   "It's really simple. Zero, zero, zero," he said.

If the summit ends and the pope doesn't implement a zero-tolerance policy, Isely said everything will "accelerate."

"Investigations by justice departments … and law enforcement around the world," he said.   Fewer than 24 hours before their meeting, survivors wondered if they'd be able to give Pope Francis that message in person.   "It will be absolutely stunning if he's not there," Isely said.  

As of Wednesday morning, we're still waiting to hear if the pope did in fact attend the meeting. Sean Doughtery told us he wants a wholehearted apology from the bishops, acknowledgment that they hear the victims and a plan to fix this problem.

The Vatican's sexual abuse summit officially starts Thursday.


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