Pope Meets With Clergy Sex Abuse Victims - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Pope Meets With Clergy Sex Abuse Victims

(CBS/AP) Pope Benedict XVI met privately Thursday with victims of clergy sex abuse during his trip to the United States.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a papal spokesman, said that Benedict and Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley met with a small group of victims and offered them encouragement and hope.

Lombardi said the pope told victims he would pray for them, their families and all victims of clergy sex abuse.

Benedict has spoken repeatedly about the abuse crisis during his first trip to the United States as pope.

He called the crisis a cause of "deep shame," pledged to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood and decried the "enormous pain" that communities have suffered from such "gravely immoral behavior" by priest.

He told the nation's bishops that the crisis was "sometimes very badly handled," and said they must reach out with love and compassion to victims. At an open air Mass on Thursday at Nationals Park, he also urged Catholic parishioners to do what they can to heal the wounds caused by the sex abuse scandal.

Thousands of priests have been accused of molesting minors in the U.S. since 1950 and the church has paid out more than $2 billion, much of it in just the last six years, when the case of a serial molester in Boston gained national attention and prompted many victims to step forward.

Gary Bergeron, an outspoken survivor of clergy sex abuse from Boston, failed in his attempt to meet with Pope John Paul II, Benedict's predecessor, when he spent a week at the Vatican a few years ago.

He called Thursday's meeting "a long-sought-for step in the right direction."

"The Catholic Church is partly based on symbolism, and I think the symbolism had he not met with survivors would have been horrendous," the 45-year-old Bergeron said.

Ealier Thursday, Benedict presided over a Mass celebrated in 10 languages, calling the United States a land of opportunity and hope but decrying that the nation's promise has been left unfulfilled for some.

At the first public Mass of his U.S. pilgrimage, Benedict mixed praise for the American experience with an effort to touch consciences, something he has been doing since the start of his trip on Tuesday.

More than 45,000 people filled Nationals Park on a clear spring day, as the pope, wearing scarlet vestments, led the service from an altar erected in centerfield of the recently inaugurated baseball stadium. Rows of red-robed church leaders joined him. The enthusiastic crowd burst into cheers when Benedict entered the stadium in his popemobile.

His homily was more somber. Benedict examined American society, saying he detected anger and alienation, increasing violence and a "growing forgetfulness of God."

"Americans have always been a people of hope," he said. "Your ancestors came to this country with the experience of finding new freedom and opportunity.

"To be sure, this promise was not experienced by all the inhabitants of this land; one thinks of the injustices endured by the native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves."

It was not the first time on the trip that the pontiff has delicately critiqued his host nation.

Speaking to his American bishops Wednesday, he said the U.S. must be welcoming to immigrants, helping them to flourish in their new homes.

Following a White House visit, a joint statement from the U.S. and the Vatican hinted that Benedict raised concerns with President Bush about punitive immigration laws. It said the leaders discussed "the need for a coordinated policy regarding immigration, especially the humane treatment of immigrants and the well-being of their families."

The statement also said Bush and Benedict "touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights" - an apparent reflection of the Vatican's strong condemnation of the mistreatment of prisoners.

During Thursday's Mass, Benedict worried about divisions among Catholics, and what he called the "troubling realization" that many are not following church teaching.

Everybody who wanted to -- in the space of about half-an-hour -- received Communion from 300 white-robed priests scattered throughout the stadium, reports CBS News correspondent Dan Raviv.

At 5:45 a.m., more than four hours before the Mass, it was standing-room only on subways. Inside the stadium, pope paraphernalia, such as T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, pins and flags were on sale, reports CBS' The Early Show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez.

For others, there was nothing more important than getting in, and many people without tickets stood outside the subway station with signs pleading for extras.

Patty Trail, 54, pastoral associate at a church in Virginia Beach, Va., drove overnight to bring two priests to the Mass. She didn't have a ticket but said she was happy to at least be in the vicinity of the pope.

"Just to be out here, just to be in the presence," she said. "D.C. feels different."

At the end of the two-hour Mass, Benedict blessed the cheering crowd, some of them waving Vatican flags. Worried-looking papal bodyguards stood close and cleared a way for him as he walked out, while many worshippers tried to shake his hand or touch his robes.

A number of lawmakers who support abortion rights attended the Mass, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. John Kerry, the former Democratic presidential candidate. During the 2004 campaign, several bishops questioned whether Kerry should receive Communion because of his stand on abortion. The Massachusetts Democrat who took Communion from a priest far from the papal altar.

For some, the experience of Mass with Benedict was overwhelming. It made Barbara Loh of Williamsburg, Va., tear up.

"I've been Catholic all my life," she said. "My dream has always been to see the pope."
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