Meeting with the Holy Father, president of Switzerland, Doris Leuthard was seen to be “visibly moved.” Discussion between the two heads of state covered clerical sex abuse of minors, the need to be “sensitive” to victims and Swiss laws on religious freedom. Pope Benedict also told her that he would like to address everything related to sexual abuse by priests this year.
The two leaders met in the Papal library of the Apostolic Palace on Thursday morning for 25 minutes. The encounter was “a very important moment” and “an honor,” the Catholic president told the Swiss news service Swissinfo.ch.
The president went on to tell the publication that the subject sexual abuse of minors came up in the private discussion with Pope Benedict XVI.
“The Pontiff recognizes the existence of this problem, also he rightly recalled that it is a question that involves all of society. He wants to confront it and is sensitive to the drama of the victims of the abuses,” President Leuthard said.
She later told Vatican Radio that she was "positively surprised that the church has signaled a certain openness." According to the Swiss president, the Pope told her, "the Church realizes it is more damaged when these cases are covered up" than when they are dealt with.
"The Pope would like to have everything related to these cases addressed this year," she stated, without providing more information.
She explained that from her perspective it was good to speak of the matter as it improves collaboration with political authorities, “seeing as before the law there cannot be differences between guilty parties that operate in different environments.”
Another theme of conversation between them was religious freedom in the central European country.
The Swiss voted to ban the construction of new minarets last November, and whether or not to prohibit burqas—a full body veil worn by Muslim women—is a current topic in the country, since it recently was passed into law on a local level in the Canton of Aargau.
The president told Swissinfo, “The Pope recalled the necessity of the freedom of religion, which is guaranteed in Switzerland,” insisting on “the value of tolerance and openness in the towards other religions.”
Leuthard added that he also spoke of reciprocity in honoring this freedom, telling her of “his sensitivity to the fact that Christians can’t freely profess their faith in other countries.”
Benedict XVI received two medieval texts on the monastery of St. Gallo and a box of Swiss chocolates from the president, while he gave her the medal of his pontificate.
According to the Holy See’s statement on the visit, the president also met with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone and secretary of relations with states Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, at which time they spoke of the ceremony to swear in the new Swiss Guards, the current socio-economic climate in the world and inter-religious dialogue.
The Pope also met with the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, on Thursday. The Kuwaiti leader spoke of the importance of the Christian minority to his country.