After months of limited action on a nearly global crisis over the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican press office affirmed today that the church plans to take steps towards bringing clerical abusers to justice.
At a Wednesday address in St. Peter’s Square Pope Benedict described a tearful meeting with eight abused men in Malta on his trip to the tiny Catholic island nation last weekend on what Catholics believe was 1,950th anniversary of the apostle Paul’s famed shipwreck there. The Malta trip was reportedly viewed with considerable trepidation after the abuse of dozens of children there came to light April 5.
Today’s admission of abuse by Catholic priests and a focus on victims is a departure for the Vatican in the midst of a volcanic flow of media stories in the US, Ireland, Germany, Kenya, Malta and elsewhere that involve either abuse or the cover up of abuse by the Catholic church hierarchy. In recent months church officials accused media and the press of exaggerating the scandal, issued statements defending the pontiff, and spent time comparing the church’s sexual abuse percentages with other sectors of society.
“The focus is now on victims, not on protecting the church, that I think is the breakthrough right now,” says Andreas Batlogg, an editor at Jesuit-based Catholic intellectual journal in Munich, “Stimmen der Zeit.”
Last week the Vatican openly published internal guidelines for handling pedophiles and others accused of illegal behavior inside the church for the first time and stressed that cases of priests and others in the church found culpable should be turned over to civil authorities.
Last Sunday in Malta, the pope was quoted as saying the church would 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."
That message was repeated again today, and the Vatican issued a statement saying it would take “effective measures” to deal with wayward priests – though specifics were not given.
Christian Weisner of the German branch of the international group “We are Church” which describes itself as composed of loyal Catholics who disagree with some Vatican policies, said that if Benedict is sincere about taking action against a history of sexually abusing priests, it will be an important step for the church, even if it is “too weak and too late."
“But so far I have seen no other Catholic leaders meet with as many victims as the pope has,” Weisner continued. “What we mostly see are bishops now talking about victims, and making press statements about victims, but not much more.”