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Pope to meet sex-abuse victims

Published:Wednesday | May 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM


Pope Francis says his plan to meet with a group of sex-abuse victims is part of an effort to move forward with "zero tolerance" in confronting and preventing clergy abuse. But the head of a United States (US) victims' group has dismissed the upcoming session as a meaningless gesture.

The meeting with a half-dozen victims, announced Monday, is being organised by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston. It will mark the first such encounter for the pope, who has been criticised by victims for not expressing personal solidarity with them when he has reached out to other people who suffer.

"On this issue, we must go forward, forward. Zero tolerance," Francis said, calling abuse of children an "ugly" crime that betrays God. He said the meeting and a Mass at the Vatican hotel where he lives would take place early next month.

The Archdiocese of Boston said in a statement that the details of the meeting haven't been finalised yet, and that O'Malley "looks forward to supporting this effort by Pope Francis in whatever manner will be most helpful". The archdiocese said the meeting was expected to take place "in the coming months".

Previous meeting

O'Malley was instrumental in setting up a meeting six years ago between clergy sex-abuse victims and Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. In April 2008, Benedict and O'Malley met for about 25 minutes with about a half-dozen victims, all adults from O'Malley's archdiocese, who had been molested when they were minors.

David Clohessy, executive director of the main US victims' group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said Pope Francis has shown himself to be capable of making real change in other areas such as church governance and finance, but hasn't done so in dealing with sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

"The simple truth is this is another gesture, another public relations coup, another nice bit of symbolism that will leave no child better off and bring no real reform to a continuing, scandal-ridden church hierarchy," he said.

Clohessy said the meeting "is just utterly, utterly meaningless".