COMMISSION FOR PROTECTION OF MINORS MEETS AT VATICAN - BRIEFING ON POPE FRANCIS MEETING WITH ABUSE VICTIMS - SEX ABUSE IS MORE THAN A DESPICABLE ACTION, IT IS LIKE A SACRILEGIOUS CULT
Monday, July 07, 2014
It was a big weekend for Pope Francis, marked in particular by his daylong trip Saturday to Molise in southern Italy, one of the nations most depressed regions as it struggles with elevated unemployment. The Holy Father said Mass and met with industrial workers, farmers, the poor and unemployed, young people and the elderly and, as is his wont, he visited those in prison. Addressing the issue of unemployment, the Pope said, Not having food to eat isnt the worst part of being unemployed. We can go to a soup kitchen and be fed. The problem is that unemployment robs us of the dignity of bringing food to our tables.

The weekend news also included the announcement of a special day September 28 to be dedicated to grandparents who will celebrate that day in Rome with Pope Francis, and the Popes words Sunday at the Angelus about keeping holy the Sabbath not working on the Lords Day.

However, the Holy Fathers half-day meeting with victims of sex abuse today is the big news and I want to dedicate this entire column to that story. Ill begin with a report on the meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, to be followed by a briefing by Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office and conclude with the Popes homily at Mass this morning in the Santa Marta Chapel, followed by individual meetings with each of the six victims.

Pope Francis had announced on his way back from the Holy Land that he would meet with victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy.

COMMISSION FOR PROTECTION OF MINORS MEETS AT VATICAN

According to a Vatican communiqu, on Sunday July 6, all members of the Commission met at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, coordinated by Cardinal Sean Patrick OMalley, O.F.M. Cap., with the collaboration of Msgr. Robert Oliver at an organizational level.

The issues under consideration were: - Proposals for the selection and appointment of new members, to integrate the Commission with representatives from other geographical areas. - Statutes of the Commission. - The need to institute an operative office. - The possibility of organizing working groups on specific themes with the collaboration of specialists and other institutions.

The next meeting is scheduled to take place during the month of October. It is hoped that new members of the Commission will be present.

Time was also dedicated to the preparation of the Holy Fathers meeting with a number of victims, scheduled for the following morning.

The first meeting was held May 1-3. The members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors include Catherine Bonnet, France; Marie Collins, Ireland; Sheila Baroness Hollins, United Kingdom; Cardina Sen Patrick O'Malley O.F.M. Cap., United States; Claudio Papale, Italy; Hanna Suchocka, Poland; Humberto Miguel Yez, S.J., Argentina; and Hans Zollner, S.J., Germany.

BRIEFING ON POPE FRANCIS MEETING WITH ABUSE VICTIMS

Pope Francis on Monday met with six victims of sex abuse by clergy three men and three women from the UK, Germany and Ireland and dedicated the entire morning to the victims and their stories. The six arrived Sunday afternoon at the Santa Marta. The Pope greeted them after Mass this morning in the Santa Marta chapel and later spent on average a half hour with each individual victim.

Fr. Lombardi noted that the invitees arrived at the Santa Marta Sunday afternoon and said that later, while dining in the residence, the Holy Father appeared for a first brief greeting to them. Each of the six victims was accompanied by a family member or other companion. They had been invited by Cardinal OMalley, a member of the pontifical commission, from several of the countries where there is a Church structure regarding the victims of sexual abuse. The participants had been invited specifically to meet the Pope.

Fr. Lombardi explained that the Pope celebrated Mass in the Santa Marta chapel at 7 a.m., which was attended by the victims, their companions, members of the commission and a limited number of other collaborators. The Mass was for peace and justice.

During Mass, the Pope delivered a homily in Spanish, although each participant was given a translation of the text in his or her own language. After Mass, the Pope greeted the individuals present, as he usually does.

Following breakfast in the Santa Marta dining room, the Pope, in another room, received the individual visitors, with their companions, for a private personal conversation during a long, profound, meaningful and fruitful morning. The discussions lasted from 9 a.m. to around 12.20 p.m.

The participants, said Fr. Lombardi, after the discussions expressed their emotion and their satisfaction at having been listened to by the Pope with such attention and willingness. The Pope showed that listening helps to understand and prepare the way to reinstate trust, heal wounds, and to open up the possibility of reconciliation with God and with the Church. The Pope, said Lombardi, wants to help the victims to find a path to healing. Neither names nor ages of the six adults were given for reasons of discretion. In addition, the criteria used in selecting these six people and these three coutries was not disclosed. Nor was the content of the private discussions disclosed.

Fr. Lombardi reported that each victim was moved in a different way by the encounter but all seemed very serene and happy and grateful to the Pope. Todays meetings went well beyond a mere formality. The Pope was very touched by every person, their story, their suffering, their wounds. Lombardi said todays encounter demonstrated on the part of the Pope a profund readiness to face this situation. It was far more than just a positive image or a symbolic encounter. It was a message for the entire Church, an important moment for victims personally but also for the Church, a time for healing and reconciliation. It is felt that todays meetings will help the pontifical commssion. They had just met for the second time as an entire group.

SEX ABUSE IS MORE THAN A DESPICABLE ACTION, IT IS LIKE A SACRILEGIOUS CULT

Pope Francis homily at Mass this morning in the presence of six victims of sex abuse by clergy is powerful and passionate and marked as the Pope says of his own feelings - by deep pain and suffering. One can imagine his broken heart when he says those who had violated the innocence of minors profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created.

Today, said the Holy Father, 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 that have left life long scars. I know that these wounds are a source of deep and often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair. Some have even had to deal with the terrible tragedy of the death of a loved one by suicide.

Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors, stated Francis, have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God. Some of you have held fast to faith, while for others the experience of betrayal and abandonment has led to a weakening of faith in God. 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.

Following is Pope Francis entire homily, translated into English from the original Spanish:

The scene where Peter sees Jesus emerge after a terrible interrogation Peter whose eyes meet the gaze of Jesus and weeps This scene comes to my mind as I look at you, and think of so many men and women, boys and girls. I feel the gaze of Jesus and I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons. Today, I am very grateful to you for having travelled so far to come here.

For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering. So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking and others the same and they set about to sustain that gaze.

And those few who began to weep have touched our conscience for this crime and grave sin. This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation. It 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. They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created. Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of Gods love and are eager to grow in the faith. 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 that have left life long scars.

I know that these wounds are a source of deep and often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair. Many of those who have suffered in this way have also sought relief in the path of addiction. Others have experienced difficulties in significant relationships, with parents, spouses and children. Suffering in families has been especially grave, since the damage provoked by abuse affects these vital family relationships.

Some have even had to deal with 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. To these families I express my heartfelt love and sorrow. Jesus, tortured and interrogated with passionate hatred, is taken to another place and he looks out. He looks out upon one of his own torturers, the one who denied him, and he makes him weep. Let us implore this grace together with that of making amends.

Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God. Some of you have held fast to faith, while for others the experience of betrayal and abandonment has led to a weakening of faith in God. Your presence here speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness. Surely it is a sign of Gods mercy that today we have this opportunity to encounter one another, to adore God, to look in one anothers eyes and seek the grace of reconciliation.

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.

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. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.

On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was 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 Churchs 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. 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.

What Jesus says about those who cause scandal applies to all of us: the millstone and the sea (cf. Mt 18:6).

By the same token we will continue to exercise vigilance in priestly formation. I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, all minors, whatever religion they belong to, they are little flowers which God looks lovingly upon.

I ask this support so as to help me 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. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, because we are all members of Gods family, we are called to live lives shaped by mercy. The Lord Jesus, our Savior, is the supreme example of this; though innocent, he took our sins upon himself on the cross. To be reconciled is the very essence of our shared identity as followers of Jesus Christ. By turning back to him, accompanied by our most holy Mother, who stood sorrowing at the foot of the cross, let us seek the grace of reconciliation with the entire people of God. The loving intercession of Our Lady of Tender Mercy is an unfailing source of help in the process of our healing.

You, and all those who were abused by clergy, are loved by God. I pray that the remnants of the darkness that touched you may be healed by the embrace of the Child Jesus, and that the harm which was done to you will give way to renewed faith and joy.

I am grateful for this meeting. And please pray for me, 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. Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and he looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps. We ask that he look at us and that we allow ourselves to be looked upon and to weep and that he give us the grace to be ashamed, so that, like Peter, forty days later, we can reply: You know that I love you; and hear him say: go back and feed my sheep and I would add let no wolf enter the sheepfold.

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