The Holy Father met with victims of sexual abuse by the the clergy
But unlike previous papal meetings with sexual abuse survivors, this one included victims who had been abused by family members and teachers, as well as those who had suffered at the hands of priests.
“Words cannot fully express my sorrow for the abuse you suffered,” Francis told the victims, three women and two men. “I am profoundly sorry that your innocence was violated by those you trusted.”
The Pope also apologized for “times when you or your family spoke out to report the abuse but you were not heard or believed.”
“Please know that the Holy Father hears and believes you,” he told them, according to a transcript released by the Vatican. Francis pledged to hold priests and bishops “accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.”
The meeting, which took place at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary outside Philadelphia, also included Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley, chairman of the Pope’s commission for the protection of minors, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald, head of the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s commission for the protection of minors.
According to a communiqué from Jesuit Father Federico Lomobardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis spoke with the victims and members of their families accompanying them, listened to their stories and offered them a few words together as a group. He later listened to each one individually.
“He then prayed with them and expressed his solidarity in sharing their suffering, as well as his own pain and shame in especially in the case of injury caused them by clergy or church workers,” the communiqué said.
Pope Francis reiterated the commitment of the Church so that all victims be heard and treated with justice; the guilty be punished and crimes of abuse be combated with an effective prevention program in the Church and in society. The Pope thanked the victims for their essential contribution to restore the truth and begin the journey of healing. The meeting lasted about half an hour and ended with the blessing of the Holy Father.
The meeting with survivors took place just before a gathering of bishops taking part in the World Meeting of Families. The Pope’s prepared remarks for that meeting were preceded by a comment on the sex abuse scandal:
“I hold the stories and the suffering and the sorrow of children who were sexually abused by priests deep in my heart. I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.
The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret. I pledge the zealous vigilance of the Church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all.
These, survivors of abuse have yourselves become true heralds of hope and ministers of mercy. We humbly owe each one of you and your families our gratitude for your immense courage to shine the light of Christ on the evil of the sexual abuse of children.
The Pope’s prepared text is here.
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