- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2015

WYNNEWOOD, Pa. | In a stunning move, Pope Francis met Sunday with survivors of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal and said he will hold offending clergy accountable for their “evil” acts.

“God weeps,” Francis told an audience of 300 bishops from around the world.

“These sins, these crimes, these sexual abuses cannot be [kept] in secret any longer,” the pope said. “I promise you that all that are responsible will be held accountable.”

He thanked the survivors for having the courage to speak out.

The Philadelphia Archdiocese was rocked by a sex abuse scandal several years ago, with a grand jury finding that church officials kept offending clergy in their jobs and covered up their actions.

Of the survivors of sexual abuse, the pope said, “Those who have survived have become true heralds of mercy. Humbly we owe each of them our gratitude for their courage. And they have had to suffer terrible abuse, sexual abuse of minors. I say this: I would like to express my gratitude to the archbishop and I felt it very important that I share this message with you today.”

Francis met for an hour Sunday morning with three men and two women who were victims of sexual abuse, said Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office. He said they were victimized by clergy, family members or teachers.

The meeting took place at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, where Francis later delivered an address to more than 300 bishops.

Each survivor was accompanied by a family member or support person, Father Lombardi said. The group was accompanied by Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, archbishop of Boston and chairman of the commission set up by the pope for the protection of minors; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput; and Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald, head of the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s commission for the protection of minors.

“The pope spoke with visitors, listened to their stories, greeted them individually and prayed with them,” Father Lombardi said. “He told them that he shared in their suffering, and he had pain and shame in particular in the case of injury caused by clergy or church workers.”

The Vatican said Francis “renewed the commitment of the church to the effort that all victims are heard and treated with justice, that the guilty be punished and that the crimes of abuse be combated with an effective prevention activity in the Church and in society.”

“The pope thanked the victims for their essential contribution to restore the truth and begin the journey of healing,” Father Lombardi said.

Addressing the bishops at St. Charles Borromeo after meeting with the victims, Pope Francis said in Spanish: “I hold the stories and the suffering and the sorry of children who were sexually abused by priests deep in my heart. I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.

“The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret. I pledge the zealous vigilance of the church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all.

“You survivors of abuse have yourselves become true heralds of hope and ministers of mercy. We humbly owe each one of you and your families our gratitude for your immense courage to shine the light of Christ on the evil of the sexual abuse of children,” he said.

On the last leg of his first visit to the U.S., Francis also told bishops from around the world Sunday that pastors must overcome a “supermarket” of distractions such as social media to convince young people of the importance of starting families. He urged church leaders to counsel young Catholics with an understanding of the new challenges they face in modern culture.

“Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust,” Francis said. “The most important thing nowadays seems to be follow the latest trend or activity. The result is a culture which discards everything that is no longer ‘useful’ or ‘satisfying’ for the tastes of the consumer.”

The pope said church leaders must accept this reality and work through it to reach the next generation and help to build strong families.

“We would be mistaken … to see this ‘culture’ of the present world as mere indifference towards marriage and the family, as pure and simple selfishness,” the pope said. “Many put off marriage while waiting for ideal conditions, when everything can be perfect. We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family.”

Before his address, the pope greeted the 146 seminary students who are studying for the priesthood.

Later Sunday, Francis will celebrate a Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway for up to 1 million followers, the conclusion of his six-day visit to the U.S. He will return to Rome Sunday night.

Pope Francis‘ remarks to the victims are available online here.

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