The Pope met eight victims of sexual abuse by clergy this morning in the Apostolic Nunciature in Valletta, Malta.
The Vatican’s statement reads:
“On Sunday 18th April, in the Apostolic Nunciature, the Holy Father met a small group of persons who were sexually abused by members of the clergy. He was deeply moved by the stories and expressed his shame and sorrow over what the victims and their families have suffered. He prayed with them and assured them that the Church is doing and will continue to do all in its power to investigate the allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future. In the spirit of his recent letter to the Catholics of Ireland, he prayed that all the victims of abuse would experience healing and reconciliation and then move forward with renewed hope.”
The victims were in their 30s and the meeting lasted about 20 mintues. The eight men knelt in silent prayer with the Holy Father in the nunciature chapel; they then prayed together and each one was given time to speak with the Pope. Benedict XVI then gave them his blessing.
Briefing journalists this afternoon, Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the mood was “intense but also spontaneous and very serene”. He said the meeting was emotional but without nerves or fear. “It was touching but not difficult…encouragingly positive” he said. He added that the victims had good relations and familiarity with the two bishops who were also present. The victims’ relatives were also there.
Asked whether such a meeting with victims of abuse had set a precedent for all papal trips, Fr. Lombardi replied: “As you see, this has happened on three different trips of the Pope because there was reason to have them and because the bishops had proposed them. This made sense in terms of this pastoral visit of the Pope. But this is not a general obligation because there are many, many [pastoral] problems in the different countries in which the Pope is travelling - there are social problems, there are the sick, the poor and so on.”
Fr. Lombardi added: “I cannot therefore make predictions for the next trip. To judge from the proposals of the bishops conferences and the local bishops and so on, I cannot exclude [such future meetings] but nor is there an obligation on the Pope during every trip. As you have seen in our communique, there is a reference to the letter to the Catholics of Ireland. That [letter] is something that can be relevant for different Catholics in different lands. In this sense I think you can interpret this as a sign of participation also for other lands within this more general perspective. The Pope can only meet five, six or seven people - he can’t meet, in a personal way, thousands. In this sense, it’s always something more symbolic and more general.”
Following the meeting, Lawrence Grech, a victim who decided to be identified, said that he now feels “special” as he considers himself healed. Another victim, Joseph Magro, described the encounter as “very emotional,” saying most of those present were crying, and even the Pope had “tears in his eyes,” according to reports
“I made peace with the Church,” Magro said.
Lawrence Grech said that the Pope told him that he was very proud that he decided to be identified.
The men were informed that the meeting would take place on Sunday morning at around 10 o’clock.
Earlier today, the Holy Father celebrated Mass at the Granaries in Floriana, a large square in the city. In his homily, the Pope urged the faithful to not put their trust in today’s advanced technology but to recognize that every person’s life depends entirely on God. “More than any of the cargo we might carry with us – in terms of our human accomplishments, our possessions, our technology – it is our relationship with the Lord that provides the key to our happiness and our human fulfilment,” he said. “And he calls us to a relationship of love.”
He also warned the Maltese people of today’s temptations. “Not everything that today’s world proposes is worthy of acceptance by the people of Malta,” he said. “Many voices try to persuade us to put aside our faith in God and his Church, and to choose for ourselves the values and beliefs by which to live. They tell us we have no need of God or the Church. If we are tempted to believe them, we should recall the incident in today’s Gospel, when the disciples, all of them experienced fishermen, toiled all night but failed to catch a single fish. Then, when Jesus appeared on the shore, he directed them to a catch so great that they could scarcely haul it in. Left to themselves, their efforts were fruitless; when Jesus stood alongside them, they netted a huge quantity of fish. My dear brothers and sisters, if we place our trust in the Lord and follow his teachings, we will always reap immense rewards.”
The Pope made no reference to the sexual abuse crisis at the Mass, but the Archbishop of Malta, Paul Cremona, alluded to it in his welcoming address.
“We know that in the light of these changing conditions we cannot just cling to the model of the Church to which we have been accustomed for decades,” Archbishop Cremona said. “We have to return to the Church as it unfolds in the Acts of the Apostles: a Church which centres around the listening to and the sharing of the Word and the Eucharist; a Church which thrives on the personal experience of Christ; a Church in which its members are not fazed by persecution but continues to give witness in love to the teachings of the Lord; a Church which passed from the humiliation of having let down the Lord at the moment of his Crucifixion to the humility of the preaching the Word relying on the strength of the Holy Spirit, rather than on the strength of its members; a Church humble enough to recognize the failures and sins in its members but strong enough to count on the presence of the Holy Spirit; a Church which does not seek privileges, but merely strives just to deliver the Good News of the Lord.”