18 April 2008
Pope Benedict held an emotional meeting Thursday in Washington with five people from Boston who had been sexually abused by priests. Reaction to the meeting has been mixed and some victims say they are still waiting for the Roman Catholic Church to take decisive action to discipline bishops who failed to remove abusive priests from the ministry. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.
Several people who were present at the meeting in the chapel of the papal embassy said the participants cried and prayed together. One by one, each of the victims spoke alone with the Pope, telling him their stories. One of the victims gave Pope Benedict a photo of himself when he was a nine-year-old boy, before the abuse by his priest began.
Some theologians and observers of the Catholic Church said the Pope's meeting with victims is a huge step forward, and that it gives every bishop in America a model to follow. But David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests, said the meeting alone is not enough.
"We're glad that the meeting took place," he said. "But the sad and the simple truth is that there is not a child on the planet today who is safer because of what was said yesterday. You know, protecting children requires decisive action. Not promises, not sympathy, not even face to face meetings."
During an outdoor mass in Washington, the Pope said measures have been taken in the wake of the scandal.
"Great efforts have already been made to deal honestly and fairly with this tragic situation and to ensure that children, whom our Lord loves so deeply, and who are our greatest treasure, can grow up in a safe environment," he said. "These efforts to protect children must continue."
Most Catholic dioceses in the United States have taught parents and children how to recognize the signs of abuse, and now have programs to try to screen out unfit candidates for the priesthood.
But victims' advocates say much more needs to be done to protect children, and that church leaders who knowingly tolerated the abuse should be punished.
"The missing piece is that while many predator priests have been identified and suspended, there is virtually not one church supervisor on the planet who has been disciplined for enabling abuse or concealing abuse or overlooking abuse, not one," he added. "And that simply must change."
The clergy sexual abuse scandal has shaken the Catholic Church since it broke in 2002. More than 4,000 priests have been accused of molesting minors in the United States since 1950. The church has paid more than $2 billion to victims, after the case of a serial molester priest in Boston won national attention and inspired many more victims to step forward.