Pope Accused of Pr Stunt

The Age

July 21, 2008

The Catholic Church has been accused of "hand-picking" four victims of clergy sex abuse for a secretive meeting with the Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI met the victims and their supporters after holding a private mass for them at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney early on Monday morning, hours before he flew out of Australia.

The Vatican said the pontiff held the meeting to reiterate his deep concern following his apology to sex abuse victims on Saturday.

"He listened to their stories and offered them consolation," the Vatican said in a statement.

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

The meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, was not made public until after it had occurred, but Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell said it had been weeks in the planning.

It was one of the pontiff's last acts before jetting out of Australia at the conclusion of the World Youth Day (WYD) program.

Support group Broken Rites said the meeting was more about managing the media than addressing concerns about the church's ongoing handling of child sex abuse by clergy.

"I'm afraid that what they've done is selected victims who have agreed with what the church's policies are," Broken Rites spokeswoman Chris MacIsaac said.

"They've not been prepared to face someone who disagrees."

Ms MacIsaac said such a meeting only served to show abuse victims the church "doesn't understand where they are coming from".

"People who have been locked out by the church in the past continue to be locked out," she said.

Dr Pell said the two men and two women who met with the pontiff had wanted to remain anonymous.

They were aged in their 30s and were selected by the church's Professional Standards Office, but Dr Pell said he did not know the selection criteria.

When asked why the church had chosen people who were not prepared to speak publicly, Dr Pell replied: "I'm not sure that was a criterion one way or the other."

He then added: "There were no pre-conditions.

"There was an invitation extended through our Professional Standards Office.

"I wasn't over the top of those details, I didn't know who they were asking or how they were going about it, but the people who were there were very grateful they were there."

Anthony and Christine Foster flew from Britain to Sydney in the hope of meeting with the Pope and the church hierarchy about the rape of their daughters by a Catholic priest. They failed to secure an audience.

One of their daughters, Emma, committed suicide this year, while the other, Katherine, became a heavy drinker and was left disabled when she was hit by a drunk driver in 1999.

"They've held us on the end of a line all week knowing that we wanted to have these discussions, so we can move the church forward, and instead they've treated us with the utmost discourtesy," Mr Foster said.

"We're very disappointed that the pontiff hasn't chosen to listen to a truly representative view of victims."

The Fosters have accused the Catholic Church of stalling their compensation claim, which was eventually settled out of court after an eight-year legal battle.

Dr Pell said: "Many, many hundreds of people have contacted me wanting to meet the Pope ... I wasn't able to accommodate all of them."

He described Monday's meeting as one of "reconciliation and healing", which would "send out a message of the genuine sorrow of the Pope and of the Australian bishops".

On Saturday, the Pope departed from his prepared homily to apologise 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," he said.

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

"Those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice."


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