Will Pope Francis Meet With Sex Abuse Survivors?
A Vatican spokesman was coy Saturday afternoon when asked if Pope Francis will meet with survivors of clergy sex abuse while in Philadelphia.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi noted that Pope Francis had met with abuse survivors on previous trips abroad, but the meetings had never been pre-publicized. He made the comments during a media briefing Saturday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
“These meetings have never been announced before,” he said, adding that the pope would seek a “personal encounter” and not a “media sensation” in the event of a meeting with abuse survivors. News of a meeting would emerge afterward, he suggested, but he declined to confirm or deny any such meetings in advance.
There are good reasons to think Pope Francis would seek such a meeting here, however. Vatican observers — including Philadelphia Vatican reporter Rocco Palmo, have suggested this trip to Philadelphia was meant in large part to try to reverse the damage and pain from a decade of sex scandals in the archdiocese.
“There hasn’t been much focus on it, but the papal visit here is coinciding 10 years to the week with the first grand jury report,” Palmo observed during a summer interview with Philly Mag. “The whole reason the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit are coming is because the consensus in Rome is, ‘Philly is too big to fail.’ And these famously loyal and faithful people, who have endured so much, deserve a happy day.”
Palmo added that the sex abuse scandals had produced for Philadelphia “the worst decade that any American diocese has had in the last century, worse than Boston or anywhere in the world.”
Francis and Vatican officials may have also gotten a taste this week of how potent the issue remains to Americans. After the pontiff praised American bishops for their “courage” in handling the sex scandals, survivors groups nationwide reacted critically.
“Either he is completely out of touch with what is going on in America — because no sane person would use his words — or he’s just trying to put lipstick on a pig,” John Salverson, president of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sexual Abuse, told Philly Mag.
Other highlights of the media briefing:
• Officials said the World Meeting of Families — during the two days before the pope’s visit to Philadelphia began — had set an attendance record: 20,000 people. (That number shouldn’t be confused with the hundreds of thousands predicted for the actual papal events along the parkway.)
• Lombardi noted that Philadelphia is the last stop on the pope’s current trip, which originated in Cuba and went to New York and Washington D.C. in recent days. Philadelphia “is the last, but it is not the last in intention,” Lombardi said. “It was the first in intention,” planned in conjunction with the World Meeting of Families.
• He also added that the pope was pleased by the outpouring of support he had received in America. “The pope is not surprised the people love him,” Lombardi said. “He loves the people.”
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