Pope Francis met with survivors of clerical sexual abuse early Sunday morning at Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. In his unprepared remarks to bishops following the meeting with survivors, he promised to “zealously” protect young people against sexual predators in the Catholic Church.
I hold the stories and the suffering and the sorry of children who were sexually abused by priests deep in my heart. I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps. For the sexual abuse of children, this cannot be maintained in secret and I commit to a careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected and that all responsible will be held accountable … Those who have survived have become true heralds of mercy. Humbly we owe each of them our gratitude for their courage. And they have had to suffer terrible abuse, sexual abuse of minors. I say this I would like to express my gratitude to the archbishop and I felt it very important that I share this message with you today.
To survivors of sexual abuse, Francis said:
For those who were abused my a member of the clergy, I am deeply sorry for the times when you or your family spoke out, but you were not heard or believed. Please know that the Holy Father hears you and believes you … Within our family of faith and our human families, the sins and crimes of sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret and in shame. As we anticipate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, your presence, so generously given despite the anger and pain you have experienced, reveals the merciful heart of Christ.
The seminary’s local archdiocese has been the subject of scrutiny after two grand jury reports in 2005 and 2011 that showed the church had not taken proper action to prevent and the rape and molestation of children by church leaders.
Advocates bringing awareness to abuse in the Catholic Church have previously criticized Pope Francis’ remarks on the issue of child abuse within the church. According to an interview with The Washington Post, John Salveson, president of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse and a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, said, “To characterize the response of American Bishops to clergy abuse victims as ‘generous’ and ‘courageous’ is bizarre.”
Salveson said that the pope’s earlier remarks characterized the crisis as a burden that the bishops must get through rather than focusing on the pain survivors of sex abuse have endured, saying that the clergy has treated sexual abuse victims as “adversaries and enemies” for decades.