Sex abuse victims criticise Pope’s comments on scandal

Some advocates for sex abuse victims have said Pope John Paul II’s first public comments in Canada on priests who molest children sent the wrong message: that the Roman Catholic Church cares more about clergy than those who were abused.

Some advocates for sex abuse victims have said Pope John Paul II’s first public comments in Canada on priests who molest children sent the wrong message: that the Roman Catholic Church cares more about clergy than those who were abused.

In a Sunday Mass for World Youth Day in Toronto, the Pope said the abuse crisis had caused ‘‘a deep sense of sadness and shame’’.

He acknowledged that some priests had victimised children, but said most clergymen wish to ‘‘serve and do good’’ and he urged young Catholics to support them, drawing cheers and applause from the crowd of about 800,000.

‘‘They should be giving victims as much compassion as they’re giving their fellow priests,’’ said 47-year-old Jim Sacco, who won a settlement in his abuse claim against former Massachusetts priest John Geoghan, a paedophile and central figure in the US scandal.

‘‘It would be nice for him to acknowledge the victims and say something on a positive note - that he’s going to support them more aggressively,’’ Mr Sacco said.

Janet Patterson of Conway Springs, Kansas, said the Pope should have encouraged the Toronto pilgrims to embrace victims as ‘‘brothers and sisters in Christ’’. She blames the 1999 suicide of her 29-year-old son, Eric, on abuse by their parish priest when he was 12.

‘‘I’d like to see a lot more attention put on prior victims who are still struggling through life, never having the chance to live the kind of life they should,’’ she said.

The scandal erupted in January, then spread throughout the US and beyond, after Boston Cardinal Bernard Law acknowledged allowing Geoghan to remain in parish work.

Geoghan is accused of molesting 130 children. About 300 of the 46,000 US priests have been taken off duty this year because of sex abuse allegations.

Cardinal Law, in brief remarks to the media after the Mass, defended how he has handled molestation claims against clergy, saying his archdiocese has taken significant steps to improve its response.

‘‘If you all would look at that, I think you would see that,’’ he said.

David Clohessy, US national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the Pope should have said he was sorry for what victims had suffered.

But Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Mass was not an appropriate time for apologies, since most victims are now adults and yesterday’s event was for the youngest members of the church.

‘‘He’s speaking to the young people and I don’t imagine many, if any, of these young people had been directly affected by sexual abuse,’’ she said.

She also noted that the Pope has previously called abuse a sin and expressed solidarity with victims.

‘‘He couldn’t get any stronger than, ‘There’s no place in religious life for anyone who abused a young person,’’’ she said, referring to the Pope’s comments at a Vatican meeting in April with US cardinals summoned to discuss the scandal.

Paula Ford of Newton, Massachusetts, said she was glad the Pope spoke about the crisis, but she felt he missed a key chance to provide guidance to young Catholics.

Her son, Gregory, is among those who have filed civil lawsuits alleging abuse by the Reverand Paul Shanley. The 71-year-old priest has been charged with molesting boys from 1979 to 1989 while he served at a Newton church.

‘‘The young people there, they’re the future of the church,’’ she said. ‘‘I think I would have expected a real strong statement of commitment that it would never happen again.’’

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