Pope begs for the forgiveness of sex abuse victims

Pope Francis promised to hold the bishops accountable for the protection of minors and begged forgiveness Monday from the victims of sex abuse as he held his first meeting with several abuse survivors Monday.

The pope celebrated a Mass with six survivors at his Vatican hotel on Monday, but in his homily he didn’t spell out if that accountability would include firing bishops and other prelates who shuffled pedophile priests from parish to parish to avoid bringing shame upon the Catholic Church in the past.

Victims’ advocacy groups around the world pressed the Vatican for decades to discipline any complicit church hierarchy.

One of the six, Marie Kane, said she asked Francis to remove an Irish cardinal, Sean Brady, from his post because of how he handled abuse allegations in the country.

Kane told The Irish Times recently that she told the Pope that a “cover-up is still happening and you have the power to make these changes.” She said that he replied that “‘it was difficult to make these changes.'”

Francis himself has been criticized by survivor advocates for how he handled abuse cases back when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires for not meeting with victims and denying that he had handled the case of an abusive priest, said Anne Barrett Doyle, director for a victims advocate website.

The Vatican quoted Francis as expressing “sorrow” in his homily at the private Mass with the victims for the “sins and grave crimes” of clerical sex abuse against them.

Francis said that he was “not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not.”

“All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable,” Francis stated according to the English translation of his homily, which was originally delivered in Spanish.

Many victims, especially in the United States, were once outraged when Boston Archbishop Bernard Law, who was blamed for the cover-ups of abusive priests during his tenure and was given a prestigious post at a Rome basilica instead of being demoted.

“I beg your forgiveness, too, 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,” the pope said on Monday. “This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.”

“Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness,” Francis concluded.

Without naming specific cases, Francis noted that the abuse caused victims to resort to addictions and even suicide.

“These deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole church,” he stated.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said two Irish, two British and two Germans who had been abused as youths by clergy met privately for about a half-hour each with Francis at his residence.

Some abuse survivors not at the meeting said that the encounters would likely do nothing about their complaints the Vatican has failed to punish bishops and other prelates who systemically covered up the abuse of minors. A survivor advocacy spokesman, Norbert Denef, called the meeting “nothing more than a PR event.”

Prior to the meetings on Monday, Francis already met one Irish cleric sex abuse survivor, Marie Collins, who is on a panel set up by Francis to help him deal with the scandals damaging the church’s reputation around the world.

Pope Benedict, when he had the post, had met several times with abuse victims starting in 2008.