Pope urged to do more for sex abuse victims
BOSTON (Reuters) - Pope Benedict's meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests helps to heal the wounds from a scandal that has roiled the U.S. Roman Catholic Church for six years, but Church experts and victims say far more needs to be done.
"We are still far from closure," said Rev. Richard McBrien, a professor of theology at Notre Dame and editor of the Encyclopedia of Catholicism. "Some bishops who covered up these crimes and exposed children and young people to serious risk of abuse are still in office."
But McBrien, other prominent Catholic academics and several victims of clergy abuse, hailed Thursday's 25-minute meeting as a crucial, historic step that needs to be followed by other deeds.
"It's clear that we now have a pope who is concerned about this most serious problem to hit the Catholic Church since the Reformation of the 16th century, and the most serious problem in U.S. Catholic history," McBrien added.
"On the other hand, he is already 81. The problem is not going to be resolved during his pontificate. But he has made a good beginning and has set an important standard for his successor or successors to meet."
The abuse and cover-up scandal erupted in Boston in 2002 and spread to many U.S. dioceses, triggering suits and settlements, the biggest in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which agreed in July to pay $660 million to 508 victims.
Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Centre at Georgetown University, said the pope's meeting with five victims puts pressure on U.S. bishops to hold more private meetings with victims.
"He provided an example to the other bishops. They should also meet with victims of sexual abuse," he said.
"But this meeting was exactly what American Catholics wanted the pope to do," he added. "The bishops were slow in understanding the depth of this crisis and the pope and the bishops acknowledged that sometimes the bishops handled it very badly."
"PEOPLE NEED TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE"
A five-year report card issued in December by the National Review Board, an oversight body formed by the U.S. bishops, said many offenders in the scandal remain unpunished and there was still a lack of accountability.
"The pope still has to show some action," said David Carney, 41, of Scituate, Massachusetts, who was abused by a priest as a teenager. "People need to be held accountable."
He said many victims are still upset that Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned as archbishop of Boston in December 2002 following the scandal, was subsequently appointed archpriest of Saint Mary Major Basilica, a senior, but largely ceremonial, post in Rome.
Carmen Durso, a lawyer representing people who were abused by priests in Boston, said the pope's meeting should have taken place sooner and that the Vatican needs to take tougher action such as disciplining bishops who failed to remove abusive priests from the ministry.
"Cardinal Law is a shining example of what happens to you if you leave your post in shame after a clergy abuse crisis -- you are given a comfortable post in Rome," he said. "Cardinal Law needs to be made an example of."
Catholic academics acknowledged more work lies ahead.
"Obviously it's not a cure-all," Rev. Robert Imbelli said of Thursday's meeting. "But it may represent a very visible and symbolic way of furthering the healing process. Steps have been taken in seeking to safeguard children."
As of 2006, 98 percent of U.S. dioceses and other jurisdictions were participating in audits and those that have concluded show "full compliance" with standards the bishops established in 2002 after the scandal, according to the review board's report in December.
More than 6 million children have been through programs to help them identify wrongdoing and 1.6 million members of the clergy underwent background investigations, it said.
"The pope's visit is a cumulative thrust that cannot help but affect people's dispositions and attitudes, including primarily perhaps the bishops," said Imbelli, a theologian at Boston College.
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