Pope Francis visit to US met with victims of child sexual abuse

September 28, 2015 12:58 pm

met with victims of child sexual abuse on the final day
of his US visit and promised to hold accountable those responsible for
the scandal in the church, delivering a powerful warning to American
bishops accused of covering up for pedophile priests instead of
reporting them to police.
The pontiff disclosed the gesture of
reconciliation at the start of a meeting with American bishops gathered
in Philadelphia for a big rally on Catholic families.
But in a
move that signaled a new effort by the church to redirect the
discussion, the Vatican said not all five of the victims were abused by
members of the clergy; some of the three women and two men had been
victimised by family members or educators.
Francis praised the
survivors as “true heralds of mercy” who deserve the church’s gratitude
for helping to bring the truth to light.

“God weeps, for the sexual abuse of children cannot be
maintained in secret, and I commit to a careful oversight to ensure that
youth are protected and that all responsible will be held accountable,”
Francis said in Spanish.
The has agreed to create a new
Vatican tribunal to prosecute bishops who failed to protect their flock,
and he has accepted the resignations of three US bishops accused of
mishandling cases.
He previously vowed to hold bishops accountable during his first-ever meeting with victims, held last summer at the Vatican.
But
Francis and US bishops have also argued that child molestation is a
serious problem beyond the church, especially within families and in
schools. The meeting with victims abused by people other than priests
underscored that point.
Later, Francis visited a Philadelphia
jail to give hope and encouragement to about 100 inmates, included
suspected killers, rapists and mobsters. Late in the afternoon, he was
scheduled to celebrate a final Mass on US soil on Philadelphia’s
grandest boulevard, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with organisers
predicting a crowd of 1 million.

Pope Francis celebrates mass at the World Meeting of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. Photo / AP
Pope Francis celebrates mass at the World Meeting of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. Photo / AP

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been hit hard by the
sexual abuse scandal and has been the subject of repeated grand jury
investigations, including one that accused it keeping on assignment more
than three dozen priests facing serious accusations. A monsignor was
found guilty of endangering children by not removing pedophile priests,
becoming the first American church official convicted of such an
offense.
Victims’ groups had complained earlier in the week that
Francis neglected to address their plight when he congratulated bishops
for their “courageous” and generous response to the scandal. The meeting
took place a day after the pope celebrated Mass with Justin Rigali, the
cardinal who was archbishop in Philadelphia when the archdiocese was
accused of sheltering pedophiles.
Victim support groups were unimpressed by the meeting.
The
Rev. Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer who worked at the Vatican embassy in
Washington and is now an advocate for victims, said that including more
than just victims of abusive clergy “seriously minimises” the problem in
the church.
“We don’t think we’re going to get any real support
to change this from the leadership in the Vatican,” Doyle said in a
phone interview. “They’re having this big meeting of families. But
there’s been no real room for all the families that the Catholic Church
has destroyed through sexual abuse.”
The main victims’ support group, SNAP, dismissed the meeting as an exercise in public relations.
“Is
a child anywhere on Earth safer now that a pope, for maybe the seventh
or eighth time or ninth time, has briefly chatted with abuse victims?
No,” said SNAP’s David Clohessy.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev.
Federico Lombardi, said the pope met with the survivors for a half-hour
at the San Carlo Borromeo seminary. He said the pope prayed with them,
listened to their stories and expressed his closeness in their suffering
and his “pain and shame” in the case of those abused by priests.
In
his meeting with the bishops, Francis referred to gay marriage for the
first time in his US trip, lamenting the new reality in which Christians
must live. But he also urged American bishops to redirect their
energies away from complaining about it, saying a church that only
explains its doctrine is “dangerously unbalanced.”
“I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle,” he said.
The
US bishops have called the legalisation of gay marriage by the US
Supreme Court three months ago “a tragic error” and “profoundly immoral
and unjust.”
Hours before Sunday’s Mass, Roman Catholics from
across the country and around the world began trekking into the city,
crossing bridges on foot and packing subway cars.
But there were
fears that the extraordinary security – including airport-style bag
searches, crowd-control cattle chutes and blocked-off streets – would
scare many people away and result in a turnout far below organizers’
expectations.
Thomas Coorey, a dentist and father of four
visiting Philadelphia from Sydney, called Francis “the most
inspirational and amazing pope that could breathe life into this church
of mine. And I’m so grateful to have a leader like him who’s so humble
and such a true servant of God.”
It has been a common sentiment throughout the pope’s visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia.
“It’s
the wave. It’s the smile,” said Tom Hambrose, 52, of Haddon Heights,
New Jersey. “It’s what he’s articulating, that the church needs to step
forward and needs to change its thinking about things.”
– AP

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