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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis urged bishops to “listen to the cry of the children who ask for justice” as an unprecedented meeting on the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse by priests opened on Thursday.
Around 190 leaders of bishops conferences and religious orders were summoned to the Vatican by the pontiff with one aim: regain credibility in the eyes of the world, and of the many victims of abuse.
Francis called abuse a "scourge" and said victims expected "concrete and efficient measures" to address the scandal.
“The saintly people of God are looking at us," he added.
Following the pope’s opening remarks, bishops were shown a recorded video testimony by one victim of sex abuse by the clergy from each continent.
"From the age of 15 I had sexual relations with a priest ... I got pregnant three times and he made me have an abortion three times."
Although no details were released in order to protect the identity and privacy of victims, Vatican officials confirmed one of them is from the United States.
"From the age of 15 I had sexual relations with a priest. This lasted for 13 years," one of the victims said in her video testimony. "I got pregnant three times and he made me have an abortion three times, quite simply because he did not want to use condoms or contraceptives. At first I trusted him so much that I did not know he could abuse me.”
Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle choked up several times as he delivered the keynote speech.
"People are rightly asking: 'Have you, who are called to have the smell of the sheep upon you, not instead run away when you found the stench of the filth inflicted on children and vulnerable people you were supposed to protect too strong to endure?” he said.
At the end of each of the summit's three days, one survivor will join the bishops in a common prayer.
But outside the Vatican, many more victims will be praying that this meeting will break down the wall of silence will represent turning point in the way the Church handles sexual abuse.
“Some of us have been at this for 30 years," said Peter Isley, an abuse survivor and spokesman for End Clergy Abuse. "Meetings, promises, this, that and other things. Time is up, you know.”
He is among dozens of victims who traveled to Rome to make their voices heard. Isley was among a group of survivors who met with the Vatican summit's organizers.
“We want zero tolerance for priests who assaulted a child, and for the bishops and cardinals who covered up the crime," Isley added. "Pope Francis is the only one who can do that."
Phil Saviano played a central role in the Boston Globe's investigation which unveiled the systemic abuse in the Church in the U.S. at the end of the 1990s that was chronicled in the Oscar-nominated film "Spotlight."
He wants records relating to many of the cases released.
"The Church has admitted that there are over 6,000 priests who have been reported" across America., Saviano told NBC News. “I want to know who are these men, where are they and who is watching over them.”
More than 30 years after the scandal first erupted in Ireland and Australia and 20 years after it hit the U.S., bishops and Catholic officials in many parts of Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia still either deny that clergy sex abuse exists in their regions or downplay the problem.
The summit is meant as a tutorial for church leaders to learn the importance of preventing sex abuse in their churches, tending to victims and investigating the crimes when they occur.