Pope, in dramatic move, comforts sex abuse victims
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Pope Benedict, in a dramatic surprise, held an emotional meeting on Thursday with victims of sexual abuse by priests, consoling them and promising them his prayers.
The 25-minute meeting, believed to be the first time a pope had met victims of sexual abuse by priests, was held in the Vatican Embassy chapel and kept secret until after it was over.
The encounter capped three days of comments the pope has made expressing deep shame about the scandal that has rocked the U.S. Church. He arrived in the United States on Tuesday for a six-day visit, his first as pontiff. He succeeded Pope John Paul II in April 2005, three years after the scandal erupted in the United States.
“They prayed with the Holy Father, who afterward listened to their personal accounts and offered them words of encouragement and hope,” a Vatican statement said of the abuse victims. “His holiness assured them of his prayers for their intentions, for their families and for all victims of sexual abuse.”
Three victims told CNN they were deeply moved by the way Benedict apologized, listened to and comforted them. “It was absolutely emotional,” one of them, Olan Horne, said. “And he responded accordingly to that. And I found that refreshing.”
“We’re at the beginning of a new start, and there’s real hope this time,” Bernie McDaid said. “It’s not just words. I think there’s going to be action following this moment now.”
Faith Johnston said she did not say anything. “I got up to him and I burst into tears,” she said.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston where the scandal broke in 2002, accompanied the group, which a Vatican source said was made up of about a half-a-dozen middle-aged men and women.Representatives of victims welcomed the meeting but called for more action. “This is a small, long overdue step forward on a very long road,” said Joelle Casteix of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Chief Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said there was a lot of emotion in the room and some victims cried. Each victim then chatted personally with the pope.
Benedict spoke “affectionate words” to the group and O’Malley gave the pope a notebook with the names of about 1,000 abuse victims in the Boston Archdiocese, so that the pope could pray for all of them, Lombardi said.
O’Malley replaced Boston’s former archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in December 2002 over the scandal.
“It’s a positive step. Maybe the pope has learned more on this trip about the evil of clergy sexual abuse,” said Mitchell Garabedian, who successfully settled with Boston’s archdiocese on behalf of 86 alleged victims of clergy abuse.
Just hours earlier, at a Mass for some 45,000 people at Washington’s new Nationals Park baseball stadium, the pope acknowledged the “indescribable pain and harm” caused by the pedophile priests scandal, which has cost U.S. dioceses $2 billion in damages and caused a handful to declare bankruptcy.
The scandal first erupted in Boston, where priests who abused minors were transferred to other parishes instead of being defrocked or reported to police.
At the stadium, U.S. flags covered advertisements flanking the scoreboard. A large yellow and white papal flag fluttered in left field and a papal seal covered home plate as the pope said Mass from a towering altar platform in center field. “It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church,” he said during Mass.
The pope asked Catholics to foster reconciliation with victims. “Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do.”
The Church’s position has always been that an extremely small number of priests — less than 1 percent — were abusers, while the overwhelming majority were faithful to their vocation and protected children.
The pope later addressed Catholic educators, telling them that Roman Catholic universities and schools that ignore Church teachings in the name of academic freedom betray their identity and risk causing moral confusion among their students.
He then met with leaders of other U.S. religious groups.
Benedict travels to New York on Friday to address the United Nations, visit the site where the World Trade Center was destroyed in the September 11 attacks, and say Mass at Yankee Stadium before returning to Rome on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Jason Szep in Boston and Andy Sullivan, Tom Heneghan and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Philip Pullella, Editing by Patricia Zengerle and Peter Cooney)
I’d really like to put this whole thing behind us, and it appears Benedict is pursuing reconciliation and healing rather vigorously.
VIVA IL PAPA!