Pope meets abuse victims

In his first such encounter since a
sex abuse scandal broke in the Catholic Church last month, Pope Benedict XVI
met on Sunday with a small group of victims of sexual abuse by priests and
expressed his “shame and sorrow” at their plight.

The pope “was deeply moved by their
stories and expressed his shame and sorrow over what victims and their families
have suffered,” the Vatican
said in a statement after Benedict met with eight Maltese men who say they were
molested by priests as children in a Malta orphanage.

“He prayed with them and assured
them that the church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to
investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to
implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future,”
the statement continued.

Among the men to meet with Benedict
on Sunday was Lawrence Grech, 37, one of 10 men who in 2003 filed a criminal
suit against priests they say molested them when they were growing up in an
orphanage in Malta.

“Today I feel much better because I
just met the pope,” Mr. Grech said after the meeting. “It’s fantastic. I can’t
explain.”

Mr. Grech and others have
complained that the Malta
diocese has been investigating the case for seven years and has not yet
determined how to proceed against the priests.

Benedict met the victims for 20
minutes in the chapel of the Apostolic Nunciature here in this harbour side
city, far from the eyes of the media. Two local bishops and several members of
the papal entourage were also present. The climate that was “very intense but
very serene,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev.
Federico Lombardi, said in a news conference afterwards.

It was Benedict’s third such
meeting. He also met with abuse victims in visits to the United States and Australia in 2008.

In the news conference, Father
Lombardi did not elaborate on the measures mentioned in the statement and said
the meeting was a “symbolic” event more than a “legal” one. Father Lombardi
said he did not think the visit would set a precedent for Benedict to meet with
victims in every country he travels.

The Vatican statement said that “in
the spirit” of Benedict’s March 20 letter to Irish Catholics, who are reeling
from reports documenting decades of widespread abuse and a government cover-up,
the pope “prayed that all the victims of abuse would experience healing and
reconciliation, enabling them to move forward with renewed hoped.”

Benedict travelled on Saturday
evening to this Catholic island midway between Sicily
and North Africa to mark the 1,950th anniversary of the shipwreck of Saint Paul on Malta
and to underscore the Christian roots of Europe
and the challenge of illegal immigration.

In spite of the cloud of volcanic
ash spreading south from Iceland,
the pope was able to fly out of Rome
on Saturday evening and was expected to return again on Sunday evening.

Later on Sunday he was expected to
meet with a group of young people on a boat in the harbour. A loudspeaker
announcement at the news centre here reminded journalists to sign an insurance
waiver before embarking on the boat.

Throughout the visit, Benedict
recalled the plight of Saint Paul, who is said
to have taken shelter on Malta
after his ship encountered storms en route to Rome.

Speaking before the pope at an
open-air Mass on Sunday morning, the archbishop of Malta, Paul Cremona, on Sunday,
said that the church to be “humble enough to recognize the failures and sins of
its members.”

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