UPDATE: Pope Benedict met this afternoon for about 35 minutes with five sex abuse victims, according to Bill Kilgallon, head of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission.
Here is the text of the Vatican’s statement following the meeting:
On Saturday 18 September 2010, in the Apostolic Nunciature in London, the Holy Father met a group of persons who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy.
He was moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered. He prayed with them and assured them that the Catholic Church is continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people, and that it is doing all in its power to investigate allegations, to collaborate with civil authorities and to bring to justice clergy and religious accused of these egregious crimes.
As he has done on other occasions, he prayed that all the victims of abuse might experience healing and reconciliation, and be able to overcome their past and present distress with serenity and hope for the future.
Following this meeting, the Holy Father will address a group of professionals and volunteers dedicated to the safeguarding of children and young people in church environments.
The Vatican also released a copy of the pope’s speech during a meeting with church child protection officers:
I am glad to have the opportunity to greet you, who represent the many professionals and volunteers responsible for child protection in church environments. The Church has a long tradition of caring for children from their earliest years through to adulthood, following the affectionate example of Christ, who blessed the children brought to him, and who taught his disciples that to such as these the Kingdom of Heaven belongs (cf. Mk 10:13-16).
Your work, carried out within the framework of the recommendations made in the first instance by the Nolan Report and subsequently by the Cumberlege Commission, has made a vital contribution to the promotion of safe environments for young people. It helps to ensure that the preventative measures put in place are effective, that they are maintained with vigilance, and that any allegations of abuse are dealt with swiftly and justly. On behalf of the many children you serve and their parents, let me thank you for the good work that you have done and continue to do in this field.
It is deplorable that, in such marked contrast to the Church’s long tradition of care for them, children have suffered abuse and mistreatment at the hands of some priests and religious. We have all become much more aware of the need to safeguard children, and you are an important part of the Church’s broad-ranging response to the problem. While there are never grounds for complacency, credit should be given where it is due: the efforts of the Church in this country and elsewhere, especially in the last ten years, to guarantee the safety of children and young people and to show them every respect as they grow to maturity, should be acknowledged. I pray that your generous service will help to reinforce an atmosphere of trust and renewed commitment to the welfare of children, who are such a precious gift from God.
May God prosper your work, and may he pour out his blessings upon all of you.
LONDON — Pope Benedict XVI expressed his “deep sorrow” to the victims of clerical sexual abuse, saying these crimes have caused immense suffering and feelings of “shame and humiliation” throughout the church.
The pope made his remarks Sept. 18 in Westminster Cathedral, where an overflow crowd of faithful spilled out into the street for his only public Mass in London.
The 83-year-old pontiff, wearing a brilliant red chasuble, looked good on the third day of a four-day visit that featured a packed schedule of events with civil and religious leaders.
The pope’s homily, delivered in English and broadcast on national TV, focused on the image of the suffering Christ, and he connected it to “the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the church and by her ministers.”
“Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives,” he said.
“I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; and I invite you to offer it to the Lord with trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims, the purification of the church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people,” he said.
The pope expressed his gratitude for the efforts to confront the sex abuse problem in the church, and he asked all Catholics to “show your concern for the victims and solidarity with your priests.”
In Britain, after dozens of priestly sex abuse cases came to light in the late 1990s, bishops adopted a series of measures to protect children, setting up a national office for child protection and encouraging the appointment of trained child protection officers in each parish and school. The bishops also made a commitment to turn every case of alleged child abuse over to the police.
On the plane carrying him to Great Britain Sept. 16, Pope Benedict said the church was not vigilant enough or fast enough in responding to cases of sexual abuse.
“These revelations were for me a shock, and a great sadness. It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible,” he said. He said helping the victims overcome trauma was the church’s first priority, and said perpetrators must never be allowed access to children.
The pope’s comments have consistently drawn criticism from sex abuse victims’ advocacy groups like the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. His remarks on the plane were also dismissed by critics.
“It’s disingenuous to say church officials have been slow and insufficiently vigilant in dealing with clergy sex crimes and cover ups. On the contrary, they’ve been prompt and vigilant, but in concealing, not preventing, these horrors,” said Joelle Casteix in a statement published on the SNAP Website.
Among the relatively small number of protesters demonstrating against the pope’s visit in Britain, were those holding signs and banners that read: “Put the pope on trial” and “Pope, protector of pedophile priests.”
The liturgy at Westminster Cathedral featured Latin and English-language prayers, and was attended by representatives of other Christian churches, including Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, who hosted the pope the day before at the Anglican headquarters in London.
The pope noted the giant crucifix that dominates the nave of the cathedral, and said this striking image and its connection with the Eucharistic sacrifice was at the heart of the Catholic faith.
“Here in England, as we know, there were many who staunchly defended the Mass, often at great cost, giving rise to that devotion to the most holy Eucharist,” he said.
He said the sacrificial mystery of Christ’s precious blood is reflected by people today who endure discrimination and persecution for their faith, as well as those who suffer in hidden ways — including the sick, the handicapped and those who suffer mentally and physically.
The pope spoke of the importance of the laity in the modern church, especially in witnessing the “beauty of holiness” and the “splendor of truth” to a world that needs both. But he also asked for an outpouring of prayers for new priestly vocations, saying that “the more the lay apostolate grows, the more urgently the need for priests is felt.”