According to the latest AP report, Benedict XVI celebrated a private mass with four hand-picked sexual abuse victims on his last day in Australia:
“He listened to their stories and offered them consolation,” the Vatican said in a statement. “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 pope made a similar gesture in a service with abuse victims in the United States when he visited there in April.
The head of the Catholic Church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, who attended the Mass on Monday, said the four victims had requested anonymity and no details were released. During his six-day visit to Australia for World Youth Day, the pope addressed the subject of sexual abuse, a controversy that has dogged the church for years, and alleged attempts by the Catholic hierarchy to cover it up.
Speaking to a congregation of priests, seminarians and others contemplating religious life on Saturday, the pope departed from his prepared remarks to apologize to the victims. “I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I, too, share in their suffering,” he said.
But victims’ groups criticized him for not meeting the victims face to face. Cardinal Pell, speaking to the media after the left, said that Monday’s Mass was not a response to the criticism.
“This had been organized over a number of weeks,” he said, adding that the group had been chosen by the Professional Standards Office, which was set up to coordinate the Australian Catholic Church’s Towards Healing program, which is addressing the issue of sexual abuse.
Chris MacIsaac, the president of Broken Rites, a support group for victims of sexual abuse said the victims were still not satisfied. “I rejoice with these victims to got to go to Mass with the pope, but I feel heartfelt sorrow for all those others who still feel they are outside the church,” she said in a telephone interview.
She said she was suspicious that the group that attended Mass with the pope had been selected because they had not spoken out publicly and added that she believed the church was unwilling to engage with those who went public with their complaints.
Is it enough? Or are words and actions required? And what of Pell and others?