News / Europe

Pope Meets Victims of Sex Abuse, Seeks Forgiveness

FILE - Pope Francis is seen at the Vatican.
FILE - Pope Francis is seen at the Vatican.
VOA News

Pope Francis told victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clerics the church should “weep and make reparation” for crimes he said had taken on the dimensions of a sacrilegious cult.

At his long-awaited first meeting with victims, the pope reached out to the tens of thousands of people abused by priests globally, telling them he was sorry for the "grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you."

In a speech written in his native Spanish, the 77-year-old pontiff spoke of the "toxic effect" of the abuse scandal, which he admitted had ruined many lives.

“For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering,” he said in his strongest comments yet on the crimes, delivered at a Mass with adult victims. “So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking.”

He said he would not tolerate abusers and bishops would be held accountable if they shielded them.

Clear action needed

One prominent critic of the church's long failure to act on the cases, and of the pope's failure to meet victims earlier in his pontificate, said he must quickly follow up on the meeting with clear action to prove it was not just a ceremonial event.

Francis delivered his homily to six victims of abuse, two each from Ireland, Britain and Germany, who had stayed in his residence near Saint Peter's Basilica and had breakfast with him. They met with Pope Francis individually at a gathering that lasted nearly four hours, each spending about 30 minutes with the pope.

“I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons,” he said, according to a Vatican transcript.

“Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness,” he said.

Sexual abuse scandals have haunted the Catholic Church for over two decades but became a major issue in the United States about 10 years ago. Since then they have cast a shadow over local churches in Ireland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries and badly tarnished the church's image.

The meeting was closed to media, but the Vatican spokesman, who participated, said it was “very intense and moving.”

“It was clearly not a public relations event. It was a very profound, spiritual encounter with a pastor, a father, who is trying to understand deeply what happened,” Father Federico Lombardi said.

The names and ages of the victims were not release,d but they were believed to be in their 30s and 40s, according to people who helped organize the gathering.

Bishops to be held accountable

Victims groups have been pressing the Vatican to hold bishops accountable if they covered up crimes. The pope addressed this directly, repeating the thrust of what he said last April in a conversation with reporters.

“There is no place in the church's ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” he said. “All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.”

Victims groups welcomed the meeting but said it should have taken place long ago. The pope was elected in March, 2013.

“I think it's very important that the pope meet with victims,” said Anne Doyle of BishopsAccountability.org, a U.S.-based documentation center on abuse in the Catholic Church.

“We know this pope is capable of compassion and his refusal to meet with sexual abuse victims so far has been inconsistent with the mercy he has shown with so many marginalized. This is something that he had to rectify,” she told Reuters.

The pope told the victims that he realized that they and others had suffered “often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair” and that some had turned to drugs or even taken their own lives.

“The deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole church.”

Last year Francis strengthened Vatican laws on child abuse, broadening the definition on crimes against minors to include pedophilia - though the legislation only covers clergy and lay people who work in or for the Vatican, not the universal Catholic Church.

Francis came under fire from victims groups for saying in an interview this year that the Roman Catholic Church had done more than any other organization to root out pedophiles in its ranks.

Victims groups have said the pope had a spotty record of dealing with abuse cases in Argentina when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, and victims from that country sent him a letter expressing “pain” that they were not invited.

Doyle said the pope should quickly follow up with “several core actions” to show that the meeting is not merely ceremonial.

“He definitely must explicitly tell his bishops that all church officials must report crimes and suspected crimes to civil authorities,” pointing that in a number of developing countries it is up to the victim to report sexual crimes.

Trial to be held

A historic first trial against a former ambassador to the Vatican is expected to take place after Polish archbishop Jozef Wesolowski - former papal envoy to the Dominican Republic - was convicted of sex abuse by a Church tribunal last month and defrocked.

But the Vatican's continued insistence on keeping its inquiries into suspect priests secret has angered victims and campaigners.

Ahead of the meeting with victims, a former Mexican priest released an open letter to the pope written with several sex abuse victims, calling on Francis to "prohibit the transfer of pedophile priests" from one community to another.

Alberto Athie, who was forced by his bishop to step down for having defended victims abused by the late founder of the Legion of Christ Marcial Maciel, insisted the pontiff should "hand all sexual aggressors, as well as their protectors, over to the civil authorities."

The Vatican says 3,420 credible accusations of sexual abuse by priests had been referred to the Vatican in the past 10 years and 824 clerics defrocked.

The church in the United States has paid $2.5 billion in compensation to victims. 

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AFP.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Comment Sorting
Comment on this forum (2)
Comments
     
by: Sparky from: CO
July 07, 2014 10:49 PM
The church needs to stop abusing families and communities all over the globe by denying them access to contraception. This traps people in a cycle of poverty for generations. If the Pope really wanted to help poor people he would stop the ridiculous ban on contraception.


by: Whane The Whip
July 07, 2014 12:45 PM
Previous popes just moved the offending priest around so as to not disturb the community of the local church. If the Pope wants forgiveness, he can start by canning all those priests that are still being protected, until then it is just a shallow gesture.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid