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Man Who Was Abused by Priests Has “Life-Changing” Experience with Pope Francis

Peter Saunders

Peter Saunders

John Burger - published on 07/17/14

British victim who founded organization to help others trust's Pontiff's sincerity.

There  were plenty of nay-sayers sounding off in the wake of Pope Francis’ meeting with clergy sex abuse victims last week, but after actually meeting the Pope, Peter Saunders is a believer.

Saunders, a former teacher who gave up his job to establishe the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), gave an interview with The Boston Globe the day of the meeting, saying the meeting “was a life changing moment for me.”

Saunders, 57, has been living with the nightmare of the abuse he received from age 8-13 for a quarter of a century. That abuse came from a member of his family, a lay teacher and two priests in his Catholic school.

NAPAC, now 19 years old, strives to provide a support system for other victims of abuse—sexual, physical and emotional.

Saunders expressed optimism that Pope Francis will follow through on his pledges of zero tolerance and accountability. “I believe him to be a sincere man,” he told the Globe’s Rome correspondent Inés San Martín, “and I believe him to be someone who wants to do this right.”

The Church in the United States began to undertake major reforms to protect children from clerical sexual abuse in the wake of the Globe’s 2002 exposes on dioceses that failed to take action against abusive priests.

Many critics felt that Pope Francis, who was elected in March 2013, took too long to meet with victims and was not as proactive as he should have been when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Saunders was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“The Pope [is] 77 years old, which means he’s met hundreds of victims of sex abuse, not necessarily at the hands of priests,” he said. “He’s certainly celebrated a great number of Masses that had victims of sex abuse among those in attendance. This was the first official thing. I’m praying that he’s going to send a message to every bishop and diocese around the world saying that they must never cover up something like this.”

And he made his feelings known during the meeting. “I urged the Pope this morning to instruct his priests and bishops to work with civil authorities when there’s any potential danger for children,” Saunders said. “He was nodding to it a lot. He didn’t say much, but I think he knows what was being said to him. I trust him, and I can only hope that he doesn’t betray that trust.”

Francis celebrated morning Mass in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta, where he lives, and spoke directly to the six abuse victims and their family members invited to the meeting. After breakfast, he met individually with each victim.

“In that sermon, he said all the right things,” said Saunders, who did not elaborate on what was said. But he felt that Francis conveyed an important message without words, as well.

“I can honestly say I sat and looked into the eyes of a real man, who happens to be the Pope,” Saunders said. “And I found an honest, sincere guy, full of love, and that’s good enough for me, because none of us is perfect.”

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia's English edition.

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