Pope meets with clergy abuse victims

Begs their forgiveness, pledges oversight of bishops

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Mon­day used his first meet­ing with vic­tims of cler­i­cal sex abuse to of­fer his stron­gest con­dem­na­tion of a cri­sis that has shaken the Roman Cath­o­lic Church, com­par­ing priests who abuse mi­nors to “a sac­ri­le­gious cult,” while beg­ging for­give­ness from vic­tims and pledg­ing to crack down on bish­ops who fail to pro­tect chil­dren.

By meet­ing with six vic­tims from three coun­tries, Pope Francis was try­ing to show re­solve — and per­sonal em­pa­thy — to ad­dress an is­sue on which he has faced crit­i­cism in what has oth­er­wise been a pop­u­lar pa­pacy. While some ad­vo­cates for vic­tims praised the meet­ing, oth­ers dis­missed it as lit­tle more than a pub­lic­ity stunt.

Pope Francis first greeted the six vic­tims — two peo­ple each from Ire­land, Brit­ain and Ger­many — on Sun­day, af­ter they ar­rived at a Vat­i­can guest­house. On Mon­day, he led them in a pri­vate Mass at a Vat­i­can chapel, where he of­fered a strongly worded hom­ily con­demn­ing an abuse scan­dal that be­gan to sur­face de­cades ago un­der John Paul II. Pope Francis also met with each vic­tim in ses­sions that, in to­tal, lasted more than three hours.

“Be­fore God and his peo­ple, I ex­press my sor­row for the sins and grave crimes of cler­i­cal sex­ual abuse com­mit­ted against you,” Pope Francis said dur­ing his hom­ily, ac­cord­ing to a text re­leased by the Vat­i­can. “And I hum­bly ask for­give­ness. I beg your for­give­ness, too, for the sins of omis­sion on the part of church lead­ers who did not re­spond ade­quately to re­ports of abuse made by fam­ily mem­bers, as well as by abuse vic­tims them­selves.”

In his hom­ily, Pope Francis also vowed “not to tol­er­ate harm done to a mi­nor by any in­di­vid­ual, whether a cleric or not,” and de­clared that bish­ops would be held ac­count­able for pro­tect­ing mi­nors. He said the abuse scan­dals had “a toxic ef­fect on faith and hope in God.”

Pope Francis has won wide praise for his hum­ble per­sonal style and his ef­forts to over­haul the Vat­i­can bu­reau­cracy, but his han­dling of the sex­ual abuse is­sue has prompted some sharp crit­i­cism. His fail­ure to meet per­son­ally with vic­tims dur­ing the first 15 months of his pa­pacy — John Paul II and Ben­e­dict XVI, Francis’ im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, made the ges­ture sev­eral times — was seen as in­sen­si­tive by crit­ics, given his pa­pacy’s em­pa­thetic na­ture.

At least one of the vic­tims who met with Pope Francis left im­pressed. Marie Kane, 43, who en­dured abuse by a priest in Dub­lin, de­scribed the meet­ing as “pretty amaz­ing,” and told The Ir­ish Inde­pen­dent that the pope “lis­tened in­tently” as she spoke to him while Car­di­nal Sean Patrick O’Mal­ley of Boston acted as an in­ter­preter.

“There was no pomp or cer­e­mony, and plus he is not re­ally tall, so he is not tow­er­ing over you, which is re­ally nice,” Ms. Kane told The Inde­pen­dent. “He holds eye con­tact very well.”

She said she told the pope that the church needed greater ac­count­abil­ity, and that she would not feel as though prog­ress had been made un­til bish­ops who cov­ered up the abuse had been re­moved.

Other vic­tims ad­vo­cacy groups ar­gued that the Vat­i­can still has done too lit­tle to cre­ate a strong, ac­count­able sys­tem to pre­vent abuse and to stop bish­ops from pro­tect­ing abu­sive priests by re­as­sign­ing them to other di­o­ceses or by ne­glect­ing to re­port ac­cu­sa­tions to the civil au­thor­i­ties.

“These meet­ings are pub­lic re­la­tions coups for the Vat­i­can and dis­tract­ing pla­ce­bos for oth­ers,” Mary Caplan, a mem­ber of the Sur­vi­vors Net­work of Those Abused by Pri­ests, or SNAP, said in a state­ment. “They pro­vide tem­po­rary but false hope.”

Another vic­tims ad­vo­cacy group, Bish­opAc­count­abil­ity.org, praised the meet­ing as “a pos­i­tive and nec­es­sary step,” and de­scribed Pope Francis’ vow to dis­ci­pline bish­ops who fail to ade­quately pro­tect mi­nors as “a sig­nifi­cant and his­toric prom­ise.” But a co-di­rec­tor of the group, Anne Bar­rett Doyle, called on Pope Francis also to meet with vic­tims from his na­tive Ar­gen­tina, which he did not do dur­ing his ten­ure as arch­bishop of Bue­nos Aires, and to re­vise canon law so bish­ops would be re­quired to re­port sus­pected sex­ual abuse to civil au­thor­i­ties.

Europe - Western Europe - Pope Benedict XVI - Vatican City - Pope Francis - Federico Lombardi - Pope John Paul II


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