"Shaken" Pope Holds Mass after Meeting Abuse Victims

Radio Netherlands
September 24, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated an open air mass for around 30,000 people Saturday amid a minor security scare, a day after a meeting with victims of sex abuse by priests left him "deeply shaken."

Around two hours before the mass, in the eastern German city of Erfurt, a man fired four shots from an air gun at two security officials. The incident took place around one kilometre (600 yards) from the ceremony's location.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters that the incident had "nothing to do with the pope", that the pontiff had not been informed and that no one in the papal entourage had noticed. Police took a suspect into custody.

Police in Freiburg, where the pope landed from Erfurt for the third leg of his four-day tour of his native Germany, said the incident had no political motive and would not affect their security plans.

The evening before, the 84-year-old pontiff received three men and two women for a 30-minute meeting that was "very, very emotional," Hans Langendoerfer, the coordinator of the trip told AFP.

"Moved and deeply shaken by the suffering of the victims, the Holy Father expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families," the Vatican said in a statement after the talks.

The meeting was keenly awaited in Germany, which was rocked last year by revelations that hundreds of people had been molested in Roman Catholic institutions decades ago.

The resulting scandal badly dented the image of the Church in Germany, which has roughly even numbers of Catholics and Lutherans, with members leaving at a rate of around three every minute in part as a result of the crisis.

The pontiff vowed to the victims that Church officials would "deal with all crimes of abuse" and were "committed to the promotion of effective measures for the protection of children and young people."

On the journey from Rome for his first state visit to his homeland, the pope had told reporters he could understand those who had decided to leave the Church as a result of the scandal.

"I can understand that in the face of such reports, people, especially those close to victims, would say 'this isn't my Church anymore'," the pope said in reference to widespread abuse by clergy.

Around 9,000 protesters, some dressed as nuns and condoms, demonstrated against the pope in Berlin on Thursday and many vented their fury over the abuse revelations.

And the pope's gesture to a handful of abuse victims left campaigners cold.

Peter Bringmann-Henselder, from a group representing those abused by paedophile priests, said the meeting was "a slap in the face, because there were no actions."

"The Vatican should open up its archives, where the abuse is documented. They should finally be investigated. It doesn't mean anything, in our eyes, for the pope to meet a few people who have stayed true to the Church," he said.

"Many people left the Church and he does not want to meet those."

US group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) was similarly unimpressed.

"The pope’s meeting will do nothing to stop priests from molesting kids or bishops from concealing crimes," said the group.

Large-scale paedophilia scandals have also shaken the Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Ireland, Austria, Belgium and the United States.

The pope has previously met with victims while on visits to Malta, the United States and Australia. In Malta the victims said the pope wept as he met them.

Addressing a cheering, flag-waving crowd of around 30,000 in Erfurt, in former communist East Germany, Benedict paid tribute to those Catholics who had kept the faith burning during Nazi and Communist regimes.

On the first two days of his visit, Benedict met members of Germany's Jewish and Muslim communities and then held prayers with Protestant leaders in a show of greater Christian unity.

But the service, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Lutheran, also attended, disappointed some who said the pope had failed to match a conciliatory message with concrete action to heal the 500-year-old rift between the Churches.

Later Saturday, the pope arrived in Freiburg in the southwest of the country, one of Germany's most staunchly Catholic cities, where he will hold a prayer vigil with an anticipated 28,000 young people and celebrate a mass on Sunday for as many as 84,000.


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