Pope holds first meeting with sex-abuse victims

April 18th, 2008 - 1:52 pm ICT by admin  

DPA
Washington, April 18 (DPA) Breaking with the Catholic church’s code of silence, Pope Benedict XVI met with a small group of victims of sexual abuse by priests in the US capital, in an audience that was kept secret until afterward. “The Holy Father met … with a small group of people who were sexually abused by members of the clergy,” the Vatican said in a statement Thursday.

“They prayed with the Holy Father, who afterwards listened to their personal accounts and offered them words of encouragement and hope,” the statement said.

“His holiness assured them of his prayers for their intentions, for their families and for all victims of sexual abuse.”

Benedict offered encouragement to the five or six adults, who had been abused as children, and some of them wept, Vatican spokesman Fredrico Lombardi told reporters. During the 25-minute meeting in the chapel of the Vatican embassy in Washington, they prayed together.

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and the Boston Globe reported that the victims were from the Boston area, seen as the US epicentre of revelations that have plagued the worldwide church since the 1990s.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, accompanied the victims in the papal audience.

The meeting came on the third day of the pontiff’s six-day US stay, the first papal visit in the US since revelations about abuse in the Americas reached a crescendo in 2002.

The Globe was instrumental in uncovering the US side of the story, describing how Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston had approved the shuffling of known paedophile priests to new parishes, where parents were unaware of the threat to their children.

The stories unleashed a flood of similar accounts from dioceses around the country. Dozens of priests have been prosecuted for abuse stretching back decades, but no bishops have been directly punished for their role in the alleged cover-ups.

Law stepped down but is still a cardinal serving in Rome. His successor, O’Malley, was instrumental in arranging Thursday’s papal audience, the Globe reported.

At an open-air Mass earlier Thursday at a baseball stadium in Washington, Benedict spoke for the third time in as many days of the shame and pain of the sexual-abuse scandal.

“I acknowledge the pain which the church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors,” Benedict said in his homily before 46,000 people gathered in sparkling spring weather. “No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse.”

“Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation and to assist those who have been hurt,” Benedict said.

A survivor’s group said that Benedict had fallen short of what was needed.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said in a telephone interview earlier Thursday that the group had hoped Benedict would “in some way publicly chastise or sanction or suspend or defrock bishops who either suspected abuse and kept silent or knew of abuse and concealed it.”

“We’re interested in prevention, not punishment,” Clohessy said. “We want complicit bishops disciplined for one simple reason … to deter future recklessness and secrecy.”

SNAP had written to the Vatican months ago seeking a papal audience for victims but never received an answer. Clohessy and others said they anticipated Benedict could meet with some victims.

The Globe noted that the Vatican had declined repeated entreaties by O’Malley for the pope to visit Boston.

The Vatican cited Benedict’s age - he turned 81 Wednesday - and health in limiting his US visit to Washington and New York, where Benedict heads later Friday.

According to investigations commissioned in 2004 by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, an estimated 5,000 priests have been documented by church records in credible allegations of abuse against 13,000 children and youths from 1950 to 2002.

Victim groups say the numbers could be just the tip of the iceberg.
DPA

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