The Catholic Church’s recent summit on protecting children was supposed to be a significant event for an institution that's long grappled with its much criticized response to a litany of clerical sex abuse scandals.
But from the outset, the Vatican stressed that there wasn’t going to be any magic solution to the problem. And many young Catholics are afraid for the future of the Church.
Almost 200 cardinals and bishops traveled from around the globe to the Vatican for the four-day event, designed to show the world the Church was committed to tackling the decades-long, systemic abuse of children.
Pope Francis was keen to play down expectations ahead of the event but spoke passionately to delegates. "I make a heartfelt appeal for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors, for we are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth," he said.
During the summit, a list of 21 guidelines for bishops was distributed, but as a response to the crisis, it seemed surprisingly basic. Suggestions included creating a handbook for members of the clergy on what to do when a sex abuse case emerges, and instructing all clergy to tell law enforcement about accusations.
Church leaders insisted the point of the meeting wasn’t to do damage control on their brand.
"I do believe that we cannot make decision solely based on self-interest, in terms of increasing the numbers of people coming to church," one of the key organizers of the summit, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago , told VICE News. "The pathway forward is not to do things simply to make us more palatable to people, but our first job is to make sure that children are safe. I believe that if we get that right, things will fall into place."
But that sense of optimism isn’t shared by the rising generation of American worshipers. VICE News met with a group of young American Catholics on a semester abroad in Rome.
John Paul Check, 21, feels the Vatican’s response has been shameful.
"The delayed reaction to what has happened has been frankly embarrassing and I would also say that pretending that a four or five-day summit, whatever it is, is enough to properly address what has happened is also a ludicrous idea."
His classmate, Jordan Carew describes himself as a "cradle Catholic." Born into a Catholic family, he’s been an altar boy and choir singer at his local church. He said the toll on the church’s place in society is already being felt.
"It's really significant," he told VICE News. "In my diocese in Minnesota, we have so few priests that we have four different parishes combined together, and it's just two priests between the four. And it's twofold — we're not just losing priests, we're losing the number of congregants, too."
This segment originally aired February 25, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
This article originally appeared on VICE News US.