Monday, 21 July 2008

Pope meets with abuse victims

In a last gesture, the Pope met with representatives of victims, and celebrated mass for them in the Chapel of St Mary's this morning with Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Filoni.

The Pope's gesture

According to the Australian:

"The Vatican said the Pope met two men and two women who represented victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests as a gesture of consolation.

He wanted to show his concern about the issue and to hear about their ordeals and console them, papal spokesman Father Frederico Lombardi said.

"With regard to abuses by members of the clergy, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on Monday morning celebrated mass with a group of representatives of victims of sexual abuse,'' Father Lombardi said.

The meeting with victims came two days after the pope issued an historic apology for what he described as the "evil'' of priestly sex abuse, saying he was "deeply sorry'' and calling for those responsible to be punished.

"The Pope listened to their stories and consoled them. He assured them of his spiritual proximity and proposed to continue to pray for them, for their families and for all victims,'' Father Lombardi said.

"Through this paternal gesture, the Holy Father wished to demonstrate again his deep concern for all those who have suffered sexual abuse."

The Pope's apology

On Saturday, the Pope made a quite profound apology. He said:

"Dear friends, may this celebration, in the presence of the Successor of Peter, be a moment of rededication and renewal for the whole Church in Australia!

Here I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country.

Indeed, I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured, and I assure them that, as their Pastor, I too share in their suffering. These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation.

They have caused great pain and have damaged the Church’s witness.

I ask all of you to support and assist your Bishops, and to work together with them in combating this evil.

Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice.

It is an urgent priority to promote a safer and more wholesome environment, especially for young people. In these days marked by the celebration of World Youth Day, we are reminded of how precious a treasure has been entrusted to us in our young people, and how great a part of the Church’s mission in this country has been dedicated to their education and care.

As the Church in Australia continues, in the spirit of the Gospel, to address effectively this serious pastoral challenge, I join you in praying that this time of purification will bring about healing, reconciliation and ever greater fidelity to the moral demands of the Gospel."

What next?

While the media made the most of the opportunity on abuse, the reality is that this was an issue the Church practically handed to them to beat us up on. There is a basic principle that needs to be recognised: those who tell the truth will inevitably be persecuted - but you shouldn't give the enemy any excuses to assassinate you. The original and continuing breaches of trust by priests and religious are bad enough. The lack of generosity in settlements, and aggressive defence of court cases just compounds the problem. The most obvious problem though is the lack of any obvious strategy to prevent future occurrences of these problems.

It has become quite clear, surely, that the mechanisms in place are not seen as an adequate response. And there are plenty of laypeople around with considerable expertise who could help on any of these issues. What is really needed, it seems to me, is a serious policy development process led by someone who is not a bishop or priest. If anyone is interested I might say more later on how this could be approached!

And one of the most immediate and important ways the laity could help the bishops as the Pope has requested is perhaps for some suitably qualified laypeople to give our bishops some media training - with Bishop Fisher being first on the list to be trained!

I cut off a comment from someone on this topic earlier in the interests of keeping to the main issue for WYD, but the bishop's remarks about getting past abuse were insensitive to a degree that is truly breathtaking. I'd urge him to watch last week's Q&A on the ABC (available online I think), and in particular the comments by the Australian's Angela Shanahan, a catholic commentator who I think captured very well the laity's recoil at the continuing mishandling of these issues.

In any case, it was I think the right thing for the Pope to focus most of his visit on the way forward, on renewal and conversion afresh. But to end it by acknowledging the wrongs of the past.

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