Friday, April 18, 2008

Teaching by example: Pope Benedict meets victims of clergy sex abuse

On Thursday, Pope Benedict also met privately with victims of clergy sexual abuse. John Allen, Jr. reports:

In an unexpected and essentially unprecedented move, Pope Benedict XVI met quietly with five victims of clerical sexual abuse this afternoon at the Vatican’s embassy to the United States, located in Washington, D.C.

Prior to this afternoon, no pope had ever met with victims of sexual abuse by priests. That omission has been oft-cited by critics of the church’s response to the crisis as an indication that Rome and the papacy are out of touch with American realities, or in denial about the magnitude of the problem.

All five victims who met with Pope Benedict today are from the Boston area, and sources told NCR that Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston played a role in arranging their encounter with Pope Benedict. In the end, however, those sources say, it was the pope’s choice to take the meeting.

Allen goes on to discuss the demands for reform made by David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, but adds:
... the pope’s forceful language, coupled with today’s meeting, is likely to at least diminish impressions that the pope is “out of touch” with the American situation.

Expectations created by the pope’s language, some observers say, could also make it more difficult for church officials to resist pressure for transparency, including the full disclosure of relevant documents related to allegations of sexual abuse, in the future.

Additional Commentary

  • From the New York Times, Fr. James Martin says "I had a prayer answered today":
    Since 2002, in my prayers, meditations and discussions about the sex abuse crisis, I’ve often returned to thoughts about the healing power of ritual. Besides the necessary concrete remedies (making financial restitution to the victims, removing and disciplining abusive priests and the bishops who moved around those priests, and setting up guidelines for safer environments for children, for example), I’ve often wondered if symbolic gestures could help encourage the process of healing victims and their families.
  • "Unfiltered access" -- Victims of abuse by clergy members talk to CNN's Campbell Brown about their meeting with the pope. April 17, 2008. "I went to Rome in 2003 wanting this meeting, and now I finally got it"; "He seemed to intrinsically understand what we were talking about."