Pope meets privately with abuse victims

Associated Press

VALLETTA, Malta — In his first such encounter since a sexual abuse scandal began to envelop the Catholic Church in recent months, Pope Benedict XVI met privately on Sunday with eight Maltese men who say they were victims of sexual abuse by priests, expressing his "shame and sorrow" at their plight, the Vatican said. The pope "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 afterward.

''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 statement continued.

The church has faced a wave of accusations in recent months that it covered up sexual abuse of children by priests and failed to take action to punish pedophile priests and remove them from working with children.

Lawrence Grech, 37, one of the men who met with Benedict on Sunday, said he found the meeting emotional and redemptive.


''You pray for me and you fill in the emptiness which I have the last 25 years," Grech said he told the pope. "I lost faith, everything, because people like you have done damage to me."

Grech is one of 10 men who in 2003 filed a criminal lawsuit against four priests the men say molested them when they were growing up in an orphanage in Malta. He and others have complained that the Malta diocese has been investigating the case for seven years and has not yet determined how to proceed against the priests. Three are still working as priests in Malta and one is now in Italy, Grech said.

Benedict met the victims for 20 minutes in the chapel of the Apostolic Nunciature in Malta, far from the eyes of the media. The climate was "very intense but very serene," the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a news conference afterward.

But some victims' groups said words were no substitute for action. Peter Isely, a spokesman for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called it "astonishing" that Benedict said the Vatican was doing "all in its power" to investigate allegations.

''It hurts and endangers kids when adults confuse inaction with action and recklessness with effectiveness," Isely said in a statement. "It's wrong, when thousands are being molested, to just make vague promises."

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