MEETING WITH ABUSE VICTIMS
BY DAN MCALOON, CNS
BEFORE he left Sydney to return to Rome on July 21 Pope Benedict XVI celebrated a private Mass with four Australian victims of clerical sexual abuse and their families.
"The Pope listened to their stories and offered them consolation," said a statement issued by the Vatican. "Assuring them
of his spiritual closeness, he promised to continue to pray for them, their families and all victims.
"Through this paternal gesture, the Holy Father wished to demonstrate again his deep concern for all those who have suffered sexual abuse."
The Mass was held in a small chapel inside St. Mary's Cathedral and was celebrated by the Pope and Sydney Cardinal George Pen.
The victims, two men and two women,were accompanied by family members and a priest in charge of pastoral support for victims, the papal spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, said in a written statement.
Fr Lombardi said the Mass and the private encounter were held "in an atmosphere of respect, spirituality and intense emotion" in which everyone was deeply moved.
"The Pope wanted to meet with victims, as he did in the United States, as a way to concretely express feelings he has already shown many times in his talks concerning the tragedy of sexual abuse" within the Church, the spokesman said in his written statement.
Fr Lombardi also explained that the Pope wanted to meet victims after World Youth Day celebrations had ended and that the World Youth Day events had been "the specific reason for his trip" to Australia.
In a separate statement, the communications dime
tor for the Sydney archdiocese. Jim Hanna. said he was "delighted that the Holy Father was able to spend time with victims of sexual abuse before his departure today".
"The Pope talked with them for about 30 minutes, offering his consolation for their suffering," said Mr Hanna.
He said the private meeting between the Pope and the four victims had been organised in the late stages of preparations for World Youth Day.
consulted with the Church's professional standards office — the body that administers the church's sexual abuse forum, Toward Healing which had nominated the four victims.
"The Holy Father's meeting with victims reflects the continuing commitment of the whole Church in Australia to bring healing and justice to those who have been so terribly hurt by sexual abuse," said Mr Hanna.