Pope Francis met up with victims of clerical sexual abuse on Monday, July 7. Though Francis has been widely popular, he has received criticism for not meeting with victims sooner. Monday marks the first time in his 15-month papacy that he has done so.
Those meeting with Francis arrived at the Vatican Sunday, July 6. Monday morning, the Pope celebrated mass with the victims at the Vatican chapel. New York Times reported on Monday that during the homily the Pope requested forgiveness from those present, “Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you,” Francis said in a text released by the Vatican. “And I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.”
There will now be a ‘zero tolerance’ policy going forward, Francis pledged “not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not.” The Pope included that the bishops will be held accountable for the safety of minors.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Francis met with six victims--from Ireland, Britain, and Germany--at the Pope’s private residence at Casa Santa Marca. Each met individually with Francis for about 30 minutes to share their story.
Some victim advocacy groups see these meetings as nothing more than a PR ploy, and nothing to prevent this from happening in the future was accomplished today. Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said "no child on earth is safer today because of this meeting."
"I think that Pope Francis has yet to take strong action that will protect children and he could do that by firing the bishops who have been complicit and who are transferring predators," SNAP President Barbara Blaine told CNN .
BishopAccountability.org, another victim advocacy group felt these meetings were a step in the right direction. The organization also asked that Francis meet with sex abuse victims from Argentina. Said victims were not met with while he was archbishop in Buenos Aires.
The Vatican insists that this meeting was not for show. Reflecting on the moment victims left the meeting, Lombadri said that one could see this was something more for the victims. "The most important thing the Pope hopes to come out of this occasion, is that the victims themselves felt welcomed and listened to," Lombardi said.
Change seems to be coming. Last month the Vatican defrocked former Polish archbishop, Jozef Wesolowski, 65. The former ambassador to the Dominican Republic was found guilty of abusing boys. Francis has also instilled a commission to help move forward from this crisis. The Commission for the Protection of Minors is headed up by archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley.