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Pope says church will take action on sex abuse scandal

By the CNN Wire Staff
Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican at his weekly general audience Wednesday.
Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican at his weekly general audience Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pope Benedict XVI says he was "greatly moved" by a meeting with abuse victims
  • He met with 8 men in Malta who said they were abused by Catholic priests as children
  • He makes his first public comments on the Catholic clergy scandal in more than a month
  • Church has been shaken in the past year by hundreds of allegations of abuse
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Rome, Italy (CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI was "greatly moved" by a meeting with victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, he said Wednesday, in his first public comments on the scandal in more than a month.

He said he gave the victims "assurances of the church's action" after the meeting in Valletta, Malta, on Sunday.

The Catholic Church has been shaken in the past year by hundreds of allegations of abuse by Catholic clergy in Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and the pope's native Germany.

The Vatican said Sunday that Benedict told the victims he feels shame for what they suffered within the church and will make sure their abusers are brought to justice.

One of the victims, Joseph Magro, said the meeting was very emotional, and left even the pope "with tears in his eyes."

The pontiff met with eight men in Valletta, Malta, who said they were abused by Catholic priests when they were children, the Vatican said. The group prayed together, and then the pope spoke individually with each of the men.

The eight men are among a group of 10 on the Mediterranean island who have come forward saying Catholic priests abused them at a local orphanage during the 1980s and 1990s.

Magro said Sunday's encounter with the pontiff had a strong impact. "I made peace with the church," Magro said immediately after the meeting.

The 20-minute encounter, held in the chapel of the papal embassy in Malta, was only Benedict's third meeting with victims of sexual abuse -- and the first amid the recent chorus of criticism of the church's response to the crisis and of Benedict's own history of handling sexual abuse cases.

The pontiff met five victims of sexual abuse in Washington, during his April 2008 trip to the United States, and with five other victims in July 2008 in Australia.

While the victims who took part in the meeting were generally hopeful about its significance, the largest organization for victims of priestly sex abuse in the United States was more skeptical.

"We are sure these brave men deserve anything that can help their healing, and we hope they feel better," said Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

"However, the pope's professions of 'sorrow' don't keep one child-molesting cleric away from kids, expose one corrupt bishop or make one child more secure," Dorris said. "That is where the pope's focus should be."

CNN's Hada Messia and Senior Vatican Analyst John Allen in Rome contributed to this report.

 
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