Pope Francis, in his first Vatican meeting with sex abuse victims, asked forgiveness for the Church’s sins of omissions in sex abuse scandals and denounced sex abuse by clergy as “execrable acts.”
The meeting took place July 7 at the Pope’s Casa Santa Marta residence. Six sex abuse victims attended: three men and three women. Two were Irish, two were British and two were German.
They arrived in Rome Sunday evening and took part in Pope Francis’ Monday morning Mass at his residence. They had breakfast together with the Pope and then met with him individually for an average time of half an hour each, communicating with the help of an interpreter.
In his homily, Pope Francis stressed that abuse is “something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence.”
“Today, the heart of the Church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left lifelong scars,” Pope Francis said.
The Pope listed some of the wounds the victims experienced: difficulties in relationships with parents, spouses and children and addictions.
He also noted the “especially grave” suffering abuse has caused to families of victims, including “the terrible tragedy of the death of a loved one by suicide.”
“The deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole Church,” Pope Francis said.
He said that Catholic clergy sex abuse scandals have been “so much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained.”
The Pope said that clerical sexual abuse against minors are “sins” that “have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God,” and so the presence of six victims there “speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness.”
“Surely it is a sign of God’s mercy that today we have this opportunity to encounter one another, to adore God, too look in one another’s eyes and seek the grace of reconciliation,” the Roman Pontiff said.
Pope Francis expressed to the victims his “sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you.” He “humbly” asked forgiveness.
He also begged forgiveness “for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.”
Pope Francis praised the abuse survivors for the “courage that you and others have shown by speaking up.” He called their actions “a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church.”
“There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” Pope Francis said.
And he added: “All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.”
The Pope said he would continue his commitment to “exercise vigilance in priestly formation.” To this end, he asked for the help of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to help him “ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal Church for the protection of minors and for the training of Church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures.”
Pope Francis asked the victims to pray for him, “so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people.”
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors had its second meeting July 6. Aside from organizing the meeting with the abuse victims, the eight members of the commission discussed potential new commission members to propose to Pope Francis in order to enlarge the geographic representation of the commission itself.
The commission also discussed a possible draft version of its statutes.
For this purpose, Monsignor Robert W. Oliver, Promoter of Justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was present at the meeting.
Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said the commission meeting discussed the need to establish an operational office. Msgr. Oliver is aiding this task.
Among the issues at stake is the need for the commission to coordinate its efforts with those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Within the Congregation, a new office is to be established for “delicta graviora,” i.e. the most serious crimes in the Church. These include offenses against morality: the sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric, or the acquisition, possession, or distribution of child pornography by a cleric.
The head of the new office will be Archbishop José Mollaghan of Rosario, Argentina whom Pope Francis named to the new post May 19.
The next meeting of the commission is scheduled for October, although an exact day has not yet been set.
Fr. Lombardi said he cannot foresee whether will be other papal meetings with victims of clergy sex abuses, including one with American victims.