By Sarah Mac Donald - 08 July, 2014
Addressing six specially chosen survivors of clerical abuse in his homily on Monday morning in the Domus Santa Marta, the Pope stated, “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.”
He told the two survivors from Ireland, two from Britain and two from Germany, what caused his distress and pain was 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.”
These “execrable acts of abuse” had left life-long scars, the Pontiff admitted.
“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.”
The Pope noted that some families of victims of clerical abuse had 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,” he said.
Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God, Pope Francis commented.
He noted that some of the survivors had held fast to faith, while for others the experience of betrayal and abandonment had led to a weakening of their faith in God.
“Your presence here speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness. Surely it is a sign of God’s mercy that today we have this opportunity to encounter one another, to adore God, to look in one another’s eyes and seek the grace of reconciliation.”
He also apologised on behalf of those in authority in the church 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,” he admitted.
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.
He warned that there is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and committed himself 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,” he warned.
Pope Francis also asked for support so as to help him ensure that the church develops better policies and procedures 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,” he said.
After the Mass, the Pope met all six survivors individually to hear their stories and allow them to raise concerns.
One of the two Irish survivors of abuse who met Pope Francis in the Vatican described the meeting as a “huge vindication” for her.
Marie Kane, who has never spoken publicly about the abuse she suffered at the hands of a curate in the archdiocese of Dublin, said she was hopeful that the meeting with the Pope would help bring her healing.
“It was pretty amazing. There were no time constraints on the meeting and the only others in the room were Marie Collins, who came as a support to me and [Cardinal] Sean O’Malley who acted as translator,” she said.
According to Marie Kane, the Pope “listened intently” to her and “at times seemed frustrated by what he was hearing” about her experiences.
The mother of two described Pope Francis as “really humble” and said there “was no pomp or ceremony.”
She added, “He doesn’t give that air of ‘I’m the Pope’. It was only because of his white robes, I knew that he was the Pope. He just came across as an average man. He is really humble.”
The 43-year-old from Bray, who now lives in Carlow, said she was invited to meet the Argentinian pontiff a month ago by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.
“He rang a month ago and asked me would I consider going. It was a big shock. It was great to be asked.”
Asked about the significance of the meeting, Marie Kane said that for herself personally it was “a huge vindication” and followed the first vindication which was the Murphy Report.
For the wider church, she warned that, “There is still a long way to go” and explained that one of the things survivors would like to see is greater accountability in relation to those bishops who covered up clerical abuse.
“Until people like [Cardinal] Sean Brady are gone, I will never believe that there is change and I said that to the Pope Francis and he understood that. He heard what I said and understood where I was coming from.”
She left three letters with the Pope, one from herself and two from her 18 and 14 year old children in which they outlined what needs to change in the Church.
“I wrote one myself because I didn’t know how much time I would have to speak to him and I thought that if I didn’t get everything I wanted to say said then at least I could leave him with my thoughts.”