Pope Meets Child Sex Abuse Victims


July 21, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI has consoled four victims of sex abuse by the clergy after celebrating a private mass for them in Sydney.

The victims and their supporters joined the Pope for mass at St Mary's Cathedral at 7am (AEST) on Monday, before meeting with him for up to half an hour in a last-minute addition to the 81-year-old's itinerary.

The Pope was scheduled to leave Australia at 10am after bringing World Youth Day (WYD) to a close on Sunday with a huge open-air mass at Randwick Racecourse.

A statement from the Vatican said the pontiff had held the meeting to again demonstrate his deep concern, following his apology to sex abuse victims on Saturday.

"As an expression of his ongoing pastoral concern for those who have been abused by members of the clergy, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI today celebrated Mass with a representative group of victims," the statement said.

"He listened to their stories and offered them consolation.

"Assuring them of his spiritual closeness, he promised to continue to pray for them, their families and all victims.

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

On Saturday, the pontiff deviated from a prepared homily during a service at St Mary's Cathedral to add an apology to minors who had suffered abuse at the hands of clergy.

"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," the pontiff said.

"These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation.

"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."

The Archdiocese of Sydney, headed by Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell, said Monday's meeting reflected the Australian church's commitment to "healing and justice" for sex abuse victims.

"We are delighted that the Holy Father was able to spend time with victims of sexual abuse before his departure today," it said in a statement.

"This private meeting was organised late in our preparations."

The two men and two women who met with the pope were nominated by the church's Professional Standards Office, a body established to deal with responses to church-related abuse complaints.

"The Holy Father's meeting with victims reflects the continuing commitment of the whole church in Australia to bring healing and justice to those who have been so terribly hurt by sexual abuse," the statement said.

Father Lombardi said the pope spoke to each of the sex abuse victims in an atmosphere of "respect, spirituality and of intense emotions" during an encounter that lasted one hour.

The Pope also took time to say a special goodbye to the family of Sophie Delezio, whose recovery from burns has been described as a miracle in response to prayer.

Seven-year-old Sophie and her family were on the stage when the Pope walked over to her and said, "Bless you," Sophie told the Seven Network.

Her father Ron said: "It was just a fantastic experience. He blessed both the children, he actually touched (Sophie's brother) Mitchell and gave him a blessing on his forehead, same with Sophie, and I shook his hand and kissed his ring as well."

Sophie and her family were official ambassadors to WYD.


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