‘God weeps for vic­tims of abuse’

Lesotho Times - - International -

PHILADELPHIA — Pope Fran­cis con­fronted the sex­ual abuse of chil­dren by Ro­man Catholic clergy on the fi­nal day of his first US visit on Sun­day, meet­ing with five adults abused as chil­dren and vow­ing to hold ac­count­able those in­volved in the crimes and cover-ups.

The pope left the United States on Sun­day night, de­part­ing from Philadelphia In­ter­na­tional Air­port on an Amer­i­can Air­lines flight to Rome. He was seen off by a num­ber of dig­ni­taries, in­clud­ing Vi­cePres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

Wrap­ping up the six-day US trip, the 78-year-old Ar­gen­tine pope cel­e­brated Mass out­side the Philadelphia Mu­seum of Art, a neo­clas­si­cal ed­i­fice astride a rocky hill over­look­ing the Schuylkill River, be­fore the largest crowd of his visit. Philadelphia Arch­bishop Charles Cha­put said the crowd num­bered more than a mil­lion.

“I have in my heart the sto­ries of suf­fer­ing and the pain of the mi­nors who were sex­u­ally abused by priests,” the pope, speak­ing in his na­tive Span­ish, told bish­ops in Philadelphia af­ter meet­ing pri­vately with the sex­ual abuse vic­tims, three women and two men.

“This dis­grace keeps bur­den­ing me, that the peo­ple who had the re­spon­si­bil­ity of car­ing for these ten­der ones raped them and caused them great pain.

“God weeps for the sex­ual abuse of chil­dren,” the leader of the world’s 1.2 bil­lion-mem­ber Catholic Church added.

The pope of­fered his most com­pre­hen­sive com­ments on the sex­ual abuse scan­dal in his twoand-a-half-year pa­pacy and used his strong­est lan­guage yet in con­demn­ing it and promis­ing that “all re­spon­si­ble will be held ac­count­able”.

It was be­lieved to be the first time any pope has pub­licly de­scribed the abuse as rape. The pope was crit­i­cised by abuse vic­tims ear­lier in his US trip af­ter he ad­dressed the scan­dal on Wed­nes­day. At that time, he did not ut­ter the words “sex­ual abuse”, praised bish­ops for their “courage” and “gen­er­ous com­mit­ment to bring heal­ing to vic­tims” and lamented that “pain” from the scan­dal had bur­dened them.

On Sun­day, Fran­cis told the vic­tims he deeply re­gret­ted that some bish­ops had failed to pro­tect chil­dren and was dis­turbed that in some cases bish­ops were the abusers.

The meet­ing marked just the sec­ond time Fran­cis has met vic­tims of clergy sex­ual abuse and was the first on a for­eign tour.

He pre­vi­ously met with vic­tims at the Vat­i­can.

“I am pro­foundly sorry that your in­no­cence was vi­o­lated by those who you trusted,” the pope told the vic­tims, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script pro­vided by the United States Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops.

“For those who were abused by a mem­ber of the clergy, I am deeply sorry for the 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 heard you and be­lieves you.”

Vat­i­can spokesman Fed­erico Lom­bardi said “two or three” of five vic­tims were abused by priests or Catholic ed­u­ca­tors, with the oth­ers were abused by a fam­ily mem­ber or non-catholic teacher.

Re­ports that priests had sex­u­ally abused chil­dren and bish­ops had cov­ered up their ac­tions emerged in 2002 in the United States and in other coun­tries sev­eral years later.

The scan­dal dam­aged the Catho- lic Church world­wide, erod­ing its moral au­thor­ity and re­quir­ing costly le­gal set­tle­ments.

Dur­ing the Mass, Fran­cis told the throngs along Philadelphia’s Ben­jamin Franklin Park­way the world must be united in fac­ing chal­lenges in­clud­ing cli­mate change and lift­ing peo­ple out of poverty.

“The ur­gent chal­lenge of pro­tect­ing our home in­cludes the con­cern of bring­ing all of the hu­man fam­ily to­gether in the pur­suit of sus­tain­able and in­te­gral de­vel­op­ment,” he said.

The pope ear­lier met with 71 pris­on­ers, 60 men and 11 women in blue prison garb, who were among the ap­prox­i­mately 2 800 in­mates at Cur­ran Fromhold Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity, a drab com­pound in Philadelphia’s north­east­ern out­skirts with barbed wire top­ping its outer walls.

The pope, an out­spo­ken op­po­nent of the death penalty and lengthy prison terms, sat in a wooden chair fash­ioned by the in­mates and told them that “con­fine­ment is not the same thing as ex­clu­sion” from so­ci­ety. He then walked around to speak in­di­vid­u­ally with in­mates, plac­ing his hand on their fore­heads, shak­ing hands and hug­ging some who stood to greet him.

Mean­while, the pope’s com­ments on the abuse scan­dal drew a mixed re­ac­tion from vic­tims and their ad­vo­cates. David Clo­hessy, who heads the Sur­vivors Net­work of Abuse by Priests and was sex­u­ally as­saulted by a priest as a child, said: “Ev­ery pope fol­lows an arc. First no talk, then vague talk, then clearer talk, then tougher talk, but it re­mains just talk.”

Anne Bar­rett Doyle, co-di­rec­tor of Bish­opac­count­abil­ity.org, a pri­vate group track­ing the sex­ual abuse scan­dal, said the test of the pope’s re­solve will be whether he fol­lows through on his prom­ise to hold the cul­prits ac­count­able.

Mark Rozzi, a Penn­syl­va­nia state leg­is­la­tor who was raped as a young teen by his parish priest, said the pope had de­liv­ered “pow­er­ful words.”

“Now we have to put those words into real ac­tion,” Rozzi said.

As many as 100 000 US chil­dren may have been the vic­tims of cler­i­cal sex abuse, in­sur­ance ex­perts said in a pa­per pre­sented at a Vat­i­can con­fer­ence in 2012.

The Arch­dio­cese of Philadelphia has been the sub­ject of mul­ti­ple dam­ag­ing grand jury re­ports re­lat­ing to the scan­dal, which by the Church’s own es­ti­mate has in­volved 6 400 clergy cred­i­bly ac­cused be­tween 1950 and 2013 na­tion­wide.

Twelve US dio­ce­ses have filed for bank­ruptcy in part due to hefty set­tle­ments, more than $3 bil­lion na­tion­wide, paid to vic­tims.

— Reuters

Pope Fran­cis meets pris­on­ers in the US on Sun­day

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