“God weeps,” Pope Francis said, after meeting five victims of sexual abuse—three women and two men, in Philadelphia, on Sept. 27, the last day of his visit to the United States.
Francis broke the news when he addressed some 300 bishops from different countries at the St. Charles Borromeo seminary in Philadelphia, immediately after meeting the survivors. The bishops were here for the World Meeting of Families.
He began by speaking about “the great wound” of the abuse of minors by priests and said, “I carry engraved in my heart the stories, the suffering and the pain of the minors that were sexually abused by priests.”
“I continue to be crushed by the shame at the fact that persons who should have safeguarded these little ones, violated [abused] them and caused them great harm, and I am deeply sorry,” he said.
“God weeps!” the pope stated, highlighting the gravity of such abuse.
“The crimes and sins of the abuse of minors cannot be kept secret any longer,” he told the bishops. “I commit myself to [ensuring] the attentive vigilance of the church to protect minors and I promise that all responsible will pay [for what they have done],” he added.
After these remarks Francis revealed: “I have just met with persons that were abused as children, and who are helped and accompanied here in Philadelphia.”
Francis gave no further details of the encounter, but the Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., sent a statement to the media giving more information.
He said the pope had “received some victims of sexual abuse by the clergy or by members of their families and teachers” between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. this morning.
“The group consisted of five adults—three women, two men—who have suffered abuse when they were minors. Each person was accompanied by a family member or support person,” Lombardi said. But, as is standard practice on these occasions, the Vatican did not release any information regarding the identity of the victims, though the latter are free to do so, if they wish.
Lombardi said Boston’s Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and Chair of the commission set up by the pope for the protection of minors, accompanied Francis at this encounter. So too did the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Most Reverend Charles Chaput, and Bishop Fitzgerald, head of the Diocese of Philadelphia office for the protection of minors.
Lombardi revealed some details of that encounter. He said Pope Francis “spoke with the visitors, and listened to their stories, and said them a few words to them as a group, and later listened to each one individually.”
Afterwards, Francis “prayed with them and expressed his solidarity in sharing in their suffering.” He also told them of “his own pain and shame, especially in the case of the harm done to them by clergy or church workers.”
The Vatican spokesman said that in the meeting Pope Francis “reiterated the commitment of the church so that all victims be heard and treated with justice; the guilty be punished and crimes of abuse be combated with an effective prevention program in the church and in society.”
At the end the half-hour encounter, Lombardi said, “The Pope thanked the victims for their essential contribution to restore the truth and begin the journey of healing,” and then imparted his blessing.
The meeting came as no surprise given that the pope had already referred to it on several occasions during his visit to the United States. He spoke about it, for example, when he addressed the U.S. bishops, he also raised the issue in his homily in St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
Pope Francis is profoundly upset and disturbed at the terrible harm done by priests to children, and is determined to hold all who are in any way responsible accountable for this great crime and sin, whatever position or role they hold in the church. He is also concerned to assist and comfort the survivors and enable them and their families to have healing. He has established a papal commission, headed by Cardinal O’Malley, to advice him in this task.
He is concerned too at the great damage this abuse has done to the credibility of the Catholic Church and its ministers, and her mission to evangelize people. He sees in this crisis the work of the devil.
As pope, he is determined to affront and deal in an all encompassing way with this plague in the church, and to ensure that the Catholic Church worldwide will henceforth be a safe place for children and minors, and a model for the rest of society in the protection of minors.
Father Lombardi will give a press conference at noon round and is likely to provide additional information on this morning’s encounter.