|Pope Meets Victims of Child Abuse and Expresses 'Deep Sorrow and Shame'
September 18, 2010
British victims of sexual abuse by priests met Pope Benedict XVI yesterday and were told that the Roman Catholic church was doing all in its power "to bring to justice clergy and religious [people] accused of these egregious crimes".
In a statement, a church spokesman said the pope was "moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered. He prayed with them and assured them that the Catholic church is continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people."
The meeting with five people, who were described as "a group of persons who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy", was at the Apostolic Nunciature, the residence of the pope's ambassador to Britain. Bill Kilgallon, of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, said the group "had anger within them" before the discussion.
After the meeting, in what a Vatican spokesman described as a first, the pope met child protection officials from the Catholic church. He thanked them for their work and told them: "We have all become much more aware of the need to safeguard children, and you are an important part of the church's broad-ranging response to the problem."
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the five victims, who he said had not signed confidentiality agreements, comprised four women and one man, aged between 40 and 50 with three from London, one from Yorkshire and a Scot. They were not chosen by the Vatican, the local church had "presented" them.
A statement from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap), gave a cautious welcome to news of the meeting. "Every time clergy sex crimes and cover-ups are discussed, it can be positive. We hope each of these brave individuals feels better as a result of the meeting, both now and years from now."
Earlier yesterday Benedict said that he and the entire church felt shamed by the behaviour of priests who had caused "immense suffering". Using his strongest language so far, the pope said: "I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes".
But victims' representatives said his comments did not, in fact, add up to an apology. Colm O'Gorman, from the Irish victim support group One in Four, said: "I feel deep sorrow about the suffering I see on the news, but there's an enormous difference between an expression of sorrow and an apology and acknowledgement of responsibility. "
Peter Isely, of Snap, said: "Why, if the pope feels so much remorse, won't he take action? Showing remorse isn't leadership. Taking decisive action is leadership."
The pope's remarks were made at the most solemn service of his visit, in Westminster cathedral. He spoke of the sufferings of "all those individual Christians who daily unite their sacrifices to those of the Lord for the sanctification of the church and the redemption of the world".
He added: "Here, too, I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes … I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; and I invite you to offer it to the Lord with trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims and the purification of the church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people."
Benedict began the penultimate day of his trip with visits from leading politicians – and was given a mysterious book by the prime minister. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, an atheist, had brought pictures drawn by his children.
• Early this morning Scotland Yard said all six people arrested on Friday in connection with an alleged terrorist threat to the pope had been released without charge.
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