While speaking to bishops and seminarians this morning, Pope Francis delivered strong words about sexual abuse by priests.
When Pope Francis entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary this morning, he was all smiles — even joking with his hosts before he approached the chapel altar.
His tone changed abruptly when he began remarks that were not part of his prepared text. Through a translator, he said victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy weigh heavily on his mind.
“God weeps for the sexual abuse of children,” said the pontiff. “These cannot be maintained in secret. I commit to a careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected and that all responsible will be held accountable.”
In his speech he said we owe them our gratitude for stepping forward.
Earlier in the morning the pope had met with five sexual abuse victims — three women and two men — who experienced sexual abuse at the hands of clergy when they were minors. Each of the victims was accompanied by a family member or support person.
He also asked the victims to remain faithful to the church.
“I humbly beg you and all survivors of abuse to stay with us, to stay with the Church, and that together, as pilgrims on the journey of faith, we might find our way to the Father.”
Also present at the meeting were Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and chairman of the commission set up by the Pope for the protection of minors, Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bishop Fitzgerald, head of the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s commission for the protection of minors.
The victims support group SNAP — the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — said the pope’s words are symbolic, and will do nothing to stop further abuse.
David Clohessy, director of SNAP: “Is a child anywhere on earth safer now that a pope, for maybe the seventh or eighth time or ninth time, has briefly chatted with abuse victims? No.”
“A doctor’s first rule is to do no harm. That should be a pope’s first rule too. Stop current sexual violence and cover ups now. Prevent future ones. Then worry about ‘healing.’ Symbolic gestures can come years down the road,” said Clohessy.
The rest of the pope’s address at the seminary, about 30 minutes long, was tailored to bishops and young men studying for the priesthood. He advised that the main job of a pastor is to develop the covenant between the family and the church, and to resist the trapping of modern culture that produce “radical loneliness,” including consumerism and social media.
At the same time, he called priests to proactively engage with young people of contemporary society.
“Should they hear their pastor’s saying things like, ‘It was all better back then. The world is all falling apart and if things go on that way who knows where it will end up?'” asked the pontiff. “That sounds like an Argentine tango. I don’t think that is the way.”