Pope Francis met with six victims of sexually abusive priests at the Vatican on Monday, where he asked for their forgiveness. This is, at least, his second request following another public appeal back in April where he asked victims to forgive their abusers just before Easter. That move set off anti-abuse protestors who criticized the Catholic church’s slow movement to punish sexual predators, saying essentially 'It'd be easier to forgive if the Church was punishing people!'
On Sunday night, the victims, shuttled in from Britain, Ireland and Germany, briefly met with Pope Francis and again on Monday for a private Mass, according to USA Today. Francis then met with each victim individually for 30 minutes to hear their stories, a gesture meant to ease the pain of the Church's sordid legacy of abuse and show his personal dedication to identifying and dismissing criminals of the cloth in the future. Later, the Vatican announced that the Francis shared “sorrow” for the “sins and grave crimes” of the priests’ abuses.
"I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately" to reports of sex abuse, the pope said.
In May the Vatican was condemned by the United Nations for its stale policies on sexual abuse and in response, the Vatican declared a “zero tolerance” for clergy guilty of “inappropriate behavior toward children.” This declaration followed the creation of a task force in December to weed out offending clergy, which includes a gaggle of women. Earlier this year, the Catholic Church also shared it had defrocked 848 priests in the last ten years for child abuse accusations and punished 2,572 more who were accused of “raping and molesting children,” according to The Wire. These punishments include actions by Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.
However, the sex abuse task force crafted by Francis hasn’t made as much noise as some groups would like and they are putting the religious leader's feet to the fire.
"With sexual violence and cover-ups, Catholic officials are obsessively fixed on policies and protocols," the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said in a recent statement. "But they absolutely ignore the one step that matters: action."
Others like Norbert Denef, a German church abuse reform advocate, called Monday’s meeting a publicity stunt.
Still, some Catholics are hopeful that Pope Francis’ words will eventually result in justice for the scores of abused parishioners.
"I would have liked to see the pope meet with an American just because the abuse scandals were so pronounced in the U.S., but I still think it's important," said Robin Doll, 44, a small-business owner from Orlando on vacation in Rome. "When the pope focuses on this I think it sends a signal to the whole church that things are going to change."
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