Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cardinal Reflects on Pope's Meeting with Victims

Cardinal O'Malley in The Pilot:
Q: Can you explain your involvement in that unannounced meeting in Washington that brought together the Holy Father with five local victims of sexual abuse by clergy?

A: After it was announced that the Holy Father was going to Washington and New York and that Boston was not included, the bishops of the region joined me in writing a letter to the Holy Father asking him to reconsider and talking about the pastoral needs that we have in New England. Then the response came back that, given the very taxing nature of the trip, that they (Vatican officials) really hesitated to add anything else. So I wrote back again asking if the Holy Father would meet with victims and after that the Holy Father responded and asked me to make the necessary arrangements.

Q: Why was this meeting not part of the official schedule?

A: We did our best to keep it a very discreet meeting because we did not want to turn it a media circus and we were afraid that if people found ahead of time that that was just what would happen. Also, some of the survivors who accompanied us wished to remain anonymous and it would have made it impossible for them to participate under the public scrutiny. So, I am just thankful that we were able to carry it off without becoming public before hand.

I was very grateful to the Holy Father. The many times he addressed the sexual abuse crisis indicate how deeply he understands the situation of our Church and what happens here. He obviously feels a great sorrow over what has happened and that he is ashamed but, at the same time, wants to encourage us on the path to healing and reconciliation.

At the Thursday morning Mass at the Nationals’ stadium he talked about the need of giving pastoral care to the victims, and then in the afternoon he gave us a very concrete example of that in his own encounter with them.

Q: Why do you think this was a crucial meeting?

A: I think it was important for the victims to feel as though they had access to the Holy Father. Obviously, not all victims but someone representing them and in a small enough group, in a context that it would allow for a very personal interchange between the Holy Father and the victims. It was not a formal address; the Holy Father made his initial comments and then he spoke with each of the victims individually, he clasped their hands, he blessed them, he prayed with them.

I think for the Holy Father, pastorally, it was very important to experience this. Certainly he has heard through the bishops and through others the devastation of sexual abuse but it is another thing to encounter personally the survivors and to learn first hand of their suffering and pain.

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