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POPE-VICTIMS (UPDATED) Jul-21-2008 (680 words) xxxi

Pope celebrates private Mass with Australian clergy sex abuse victims

By Dan McAloon
Catholic News Service

SYDNEY, Australia (CNS) -- Before he left Sydney to return to Rome, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated a private Mass with four Australian victims of clerical sexual abuse and their families.

"The pope listened to their stories and offered them consolation," said a statement issued by the Vatican after the July 21 meeting. "Assuring them of his spiritual closeness, he promised to continue to pray for them, their families and all victims. Through this paternal gesture, the Holy Father wished to demonstrate again his deep concern for all those who have suffered sexual abuse."

The Mass was held in a small chapel inside St. Mary's Cathedral and was celebrated by the pope and Sydney Cardinal George Pell.

The victims -- two men and two women -- were accompanied by family members and a priest in charge of pastoral support for victims, said the papal spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, in a written statement.

Father Lombardi said the Mass and the private encounter were held "in an atmosphere of respect, spirituality and intense emotion" in which everyone was deeply moved.

"The pope wanted to meet with victims, as he did in the United States, as a way to concretely express feelings he has already shown many times in his talks concerning the tragedy of sexual abuse" within the church, the spokesman said.

Father Lombardi also explained that the pope wanted to meet with victims after World Youth Day celebrations had ended and that the World Youth Day events had been "the specific reason for his trip" to Australia.

In a separate statement, the communications director for the Sydney Archdiocese, Jim Hanna, said he was "delighted that the Holy Father was able to spend time with victims of sexual abuse before his departure today."

"The pope talked with them for about 30 minutes, offering his consolation for their suffering," said Hanna.

He said the private meeting between the pope and the four victims had been organized in the late stages of preparations for World Youth Day. Organizers had consulted with the church's professional standards office -- the body that administers the church's sexual abuse forum, Toward Healing -- which had nominated the four victims.

"The Holy Father's meeting with victims reflects the continuing commitment of the whole church in Australia to bring healing and justice to those who have been so terribly hurt by sexual abuse," said Hanna.

Two of the victims who met with the pope said in a statement that he "was compassionate in his words of consolation to us," reported the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"We were moved by the pope's compassionate response to us and his comment that he would continue to pray for all victims of sexual abuse," said the victims, who wished to remain anonymous. They added that it was clear the pope was aware of their experiences.

"He said he hoped the meeting would help us and others to move forward with our lives," they said.

Australian media also reported that victims' support group Broken Rites complained they were excluded from the Mass and that the meeting was a media event staged by the church.

Two days earlier, during a cathedral Mass with bishops, priests and seminarians, Pope Benedict said he was "deeply sorry for the pain and suffering" endured by Australian victims of clerical sexual abuse, which he described as "so grave a betrayal of trust" that deserves "unequivocal condemnation."

"I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured, and I assure them that as their pastor, I, too, share in their suffering," he said.

Retired Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, former head of a church panel for dealing with the crisis, has estimated the number of Australian victims at more than 1,000.

- - -

Contributing to this story were Cindy Wooden in Sydney and Carol Glatz at the Vatican.


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