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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs