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Pope Meets With Victims of Sexual Abuse

PHILADELPHIA — Speaking to hundreds of bishops and seminarians, Pope Francis on Sunday said he met in private with a group of victims of clergy sexual abuse and he pledged that “all responsible will be held accountable.”

“God weeps for the sexual abuse of children,” he said.

The pope, speaking on the last day of his trip to the United States, delivered his words before his prepared speech. He said survivors of abuse by priests “have become true heralds of mercy. Humbly, we owe each of them our gratitude for their value as they have had to suffer terrible abuse.”

In several references to the scandal during his trip, the pope drew criticism for seeming more concerned about the scandal’s effect on the clergy than the victims.

He told clergy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York: “You have suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the church in the most vulnerable of her members.” He added: “I accompany you at this time of pain and difficulty.”

But on Sunday, he said he committed himself “to a careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected and that all responsible will be held accountable.”

Before his remarks, the pope met with three women and two men, all adults who had suffered abuse as children, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. The pope heard their stories and spoke to the group, then met with each survivor individually, praying with them and expressing “his own pain and shame” at how they had suffered, Father Lombardi said.

Each of the survivors was accompanied by a family member or support person. Also in attendance were Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston and chair of the commission set up by the pope for the protection of minors, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, as well as an auxiliary bishop who is in charge of the office for the protection of minors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the nation’s most prominent support and advocacy group for victims of clergy sexual abuse, dismissed the pope’s actions. “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,” said the group’s director, David Clohessy.

He called the pope’s encounter with victims “a smart public relations move. That’s what this meeting is. Nothing more.”

Francis started his day with a visit to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to address bishops taking part in the World Meeting of Families. As he has for much of the weekend here in Philadelphia, he delved into related matters — marriage, young people, friendship, relationships. Here, he wrestled with how “unprecedented changes” in society has affected family ties.

Francis adapted his critique of a consumer society, one of the themes he most forcefully pushes and that draws some of the sharpest criticism from free-marketers, to modern conceptions of family. He compared it to a supermarket: “The world seems to have become one of these great supermarkets; our culture has become more and more competitive,” he said. “Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust.”

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