By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
During what was described as a “very emotional” meeting with eight men who were abused by homosexual priests in Malta, Pope Benedict XVI was said to have had tears in his eyes as he expressed his deep “shame and sorrow” over the behavior of the clerics involved.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, one of the most outspoken members of the group of victims, Joseph Magro, emerged from the papal meeting saying, “I made peace with the church.”
Magro, along with seven other men, shocked the deeply Catholic island nation of Malta with their recent revelations about being abused by Catholic priests at a church-run orphanage during the 1980s and 1990s. One victim blamed the abuse for the horrific murder he committed in 1991 when he killed a homosexual man with a hammer, then used a broken bottle to cut his body into pieces.
The group’s spokesman, Lawrence Grech confirmed that the pope had cried during the 20-minute meeting. “I saw the pope cry with emotion and I felt freed of a great weight,” he told the Guardian. ” I hadn’t been to Mass for a long time and I’d lost my faith, but now I feel a confirmed Catholic.”
Another victim, who prefers to remain anonymous, told the Times of Malta: “We now have peace in our hearts … because the pope found time to meet us. We now look forward to the end of the court case, and the closure of this chapter.”
The group was unsure if they would have an audience with the Pope during his 26-hour visit to Malta, but received a last-minute summons to the apostolic nunciature in Vallettta where the meeting was held.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi said the Pope was accompanied by a senior Vatican official, his private secretary and the nuncio, while two Maltese bishops escorted the victims into the session. The meeting began with a moment of silent prayer followed by a one-on-one meeting between the pope and each victim. Fr. Lombardi said each victim was permitted to say “whatever they wished to say” and the pope responded to each one individually.
“He was deeply moved by their stories and expressed his shame and sorrow over what victims and their families have suffered,” the Vatican said in a statement after the meeting.
“He prayed with them and assured them that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future.”
The meeting concluded with a common prayer in Maltese, and the pope gave each victim a rosary.
In spite of the furor over a new wave a sex abuse scandals sweeping across Europe at the present time, the Pope was warmly received by the people in Malta. In a mass in front of 40,000 people, Benedict made no reference to the scandals but urged Maltese priests to follow the example of the country’s first native saint, Father George Preca, whom he described as “a priest of remarkable humility, goodness, meekness and generosity.”
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