VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy on Wednesday called for a meeting with Pope Francis to urge their demand on the church to apply a zero-tolerance policy, including the release of bishops who have covered such crimes ,

The twelve victims met with five representatives of the Vatican the day before the beginning of an unprecedented conference on abuse of clergy. They ask senior bishops how best to solve a problem that has decimated the credibility of the church.

All survivors of abuse who participated in the more than two-hour meeting said they were disappointed that the Pope was not present, even though he was not supposed to be there.

"We have to argue with the man who sets the rules and has power in this institution, and that's Pope Francis," said Peter Isely, an American from Milwaukee who was abused as a boy by a priest.

Isely said the discussion had become "a bit confrontational, sometimes a bit heated, but polite."

The four-day conference brings together presidents of the National Catholic Bishops' Conferences, representatives of the Vatican, experts and leaders of religious religious. It is taking place while the 1.3 billion members of the Church are still struggling to make concerted, coordinated and global efforts to tackle a crisis that is now more than two decades old.

Scandals on sexual abuse of minors have profoundly damaged the credibility of the Church in the United States, Chile, Australia, Ireland and elsewhere. In the US alone billions of dollars have been paid in settlements.

"We have made our demands for zero tolerance. We want the pope to write in the universal law: zero tolerance for the cover-up of sexual offenses. You can do it now, "Isely told reporters after meeting the officials, all the clerics.

He and other victims said that bishops who had covered up abuse should be turned away from the priesthood known as Laize, as well as those who had committed the abuse themselves.

One of the Vatican participants said that the Pope would never be present on Wednesday, as he would see other victims of abuse during the conference. Victims who turn to the congregation remain anonymous at their request.

Peter Isley, survivor of sexual abuse, speaks with reporters on 20 February 2019 at the Vatican in Rome, Italy. REUTERS / Remo Casilli

Sacrifice: No lesson required

The victims made fun of the presentation of the conference by the Vatican as a necessary classroom session, since not all bishops are familiar with the handling of abuse.

"We have been very strict and eloquent about what needs to happen, especially the application of existing laws and their strict application," said Juan Carlos Cruz, who was abused as a teenager in his native Chile by the notorious pedophile of this country. Father Fernando Karadima.

Karadima was found guilty of sexual assault in a 2011 Vatican investigation and sentenced by the Pope last year. He has denied the allegations.

"It's unseemly that every bishop in the world, no matter what your culture is, no matter what country you come from, can tell (he did not know how to handle abuse cases)." No! It's no excuse and it has to end, "Cruz said.

Isely said, "How do you come to the bishop and need education to rape a child?"

Father Federico Lombardi, one of the Vatican's five representatives, said the Vatican participants knew, "If the church does not really address these issues, it will lose credibility." "

Phil Saviano, whose story about abuse by a priest when he was twelve years old, was told in Massachusetts in the 2015 Oscar-winning film "Spotlight", demanded that the Vatican documents on harassment of priests in the past or present passes.

"That would be a wonderful sign of transparency, and maybe some people leaving the Catholic Church, especially in the United States, will signal that things may get better," Saviano said.

Isely and others who attended the Wednesday meeting said they wanted to meet the Pope because they represent groups with the most experience and information in collecting data on both the perpetrators and the victims.

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Some of them are leaders of groups such as Ending Clergy Abuse, the Survivors Network of Priests Abused People (SNAP) and bishopaccountability.org, which has one of the world's largest databases of abuse in the Church.

"This is the brain's confidence," said Isely. "The church needs us."

Arrangement by John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry

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