Victims Defend Pope's "Stage-managed" Meeting

By Annabel Stafford
The Age

July 22, 2008

TWO victims of church sexual abuse who met the Pope in a secret Mass just hours before his departure yesterday morning have said they spoke to the Pontiff on behalf of all victims.

The two, believed to be siblings, also pleaded with other victims to respect their need for anonymity.

In a statement released via the Sydney Archdiocese, the victims said they had provided the Pope with written accounts of "the abuse to which we were subjected and its effect on our lives" prior to the Mass held at 7am in a private chapel at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral.

The siblings, who spoke further with the Pope of their experiences, were two of four victims at the Mass which was attended by about 10 people including Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell.

The siblings said the Pope had also directed comments to the clergy who were present, saying abuse must be eradicated at the seminary training stage.

"We were moved by the Pope's compassionate response to us and his comment that he would continue to pray for all victims of sexual abuse," they said.

But several other abuse victims slammed the church over the secret meeting with handpicked survivors.

The four victims at the Mass had gone through the church's much-criticised internal program for sex abuse survivors.

The man who chose them has admitted he had looked for people who would be "comfortable in attending the Mass".

Michael Salmon the head of the church's office for dealing with abuse victims also confirmed none of those he invited to Mass had pursued a civil claim against the church. But one had pursued criminal charges against their abuser, he said.

Anthony Foster who cut short a European holiday in the hope of meeting the Pope to talk about the rape of his two daughters by Melbourne priest Kevin O'Donnell said he was "devastated" he had not been told of the Mass.

Mr Foster, whose daughter Emma took her own life earlier this year, said "the Pope has snubbed us and shown a lack of care and compassion to us".

Anthony Jones whose case the church reopened after Lateline revealed his alleged abuser had admitted to the attack said he was "happy for the four people who were apologised to but there are a lot of other people out there, including myself, who are hurting".

Mr Jones said he suspected the church had chosen people who were happy with its internal processes and who it "knew would graciously accept the apology and not question the Pope".

But Cardinal Pell defended the secrecy around the Mass, saying it had been necessary to protect the privacy of victims and saying others could share in the healing because they were told what the service had entailed.

Mr Salmon rejected criticism that the church had excluded critics of its systems for dealing with abuse. While the victims at the Mass had "attained a certain level of peace they were forthright in presenting themselves as people that had suffered (so) the idea that they're tame people in this context, well that's not the case".

Yesterday's private Mass came after the Pope gave a public apology to victims in which he said he was "deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured".


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