Angel Santiago and his wife, Vanaessa, look on as Carmen Severino, right, is embraced during a news conference where thousands of documents from the Chicago Archdiocese on past cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors were released Jan. 21. (CNS photo/Jim Young, Reuters) (Jan. 22, 2014)

Pope Meets with Abuse Survivors and Families

The Vatican reports that this morning at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Pope Francis met with “some victims of sexual abuse by the clergy or by members of their families or their teachers.”

Later Pope Francis acknowledged that he had met with a group of victims of clergy sex abuse victims and said that the “crimes and sins of sexual abuse of children can longer remain in secret.”

He said, “I pledge the zealous vigilance of the church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all.”

In a Sept. 27 meeting with cardinals, bishops, priests and seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, the pope prefaced his address on the importance of the family by saying that he had met with the group as arranged by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.

“I hold the stories and the suffering and the sorry of children who were sexually abused by priests deep in my heart,” he said. “I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.

“You survivors of abuse have yourselves become true heralds of hope and ministers of mercy. We humbly owe each one of you and your families our gratitude for your immense courage to shine the light of Christ on the evil of the sexual abuse of children.”

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.

The group was accompanied by Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and Chair of the commission set up by the pope for the protection of minors; by the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Most Reverend Charles Chaput and Bishop Fitzgerald, head of the Diocese of Philadelphia Office for the protection of minors.

Pope Francis spoke with visitors, listening to their stories and offering them a few words together as a group and later listening to each one individually. He then prayed with them and expressed his solidarity in sharing their suffering, as well as his own pain and shame especially in the case of injury caused to them by clergy or church workers.

According to the Vatican communique: “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. The Pope thanked the victims for their essential contribution to restore the truth and begin the journey of healing. The meeting lasted about half an hour and ended with the blessing of the Holy Father.”