Pope Francis has promised to hold bishops accountable for the protection of minors and begged forgiveness from the victims of clergy sex abuse during his first meeting with survivors.
The pope celebrated a Mass with six survivors at his Vatican hotel today but in his homily he did not spell out whether that accountability would include firing bishops and other prelates who shuffled paedophile priests between parishes to avoid bringing shame upon the Catholic Church.
Victims‘ advocacy groups around the world have pressed the Vatican for decades to severely discipline any complicit church hierarchy.
One of the six, Irish woman Marie Kane, 43, said she asked Francis to remove an Irish cardinal, Sean Brady, from his post because of how he handled abuse allegations.
Ms Kane told The Irish Times that she told Francis a „cover-up is still happening“ and he has „the power to make these changes“. She said he replied that „it was difficult to make these changes“.
Francis has been criticised by survivor advocates for how he handled abuse cases as archbishop of Buenos Aires, specifically for not meeting victims and denying that he had handled the case of an abusive priest, said Anne Barrett Doyle, a director of the advocacy group BishopAccountability.org.
Even while the Pope spent his morning with the three men and three women, listening to their stories one by one, several victims‘ groups blasted the meetings as „a PR event“.
The Vatican quoted Francis as expressing personal „sorrow“ in his homily at the private Mass with the victims for the „sins and grave crimes“ of clerical sex abuse against them.
Francis pledged „not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not“.
„All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable,“ he said, according to the English translation of his Spanish homily.
Many victims, especially in the United States, were outraged when Boston Archbishop Bernard Law, blamed for the cover-ups of abusive priests during his tenure, was given a prestigious post at a Rome basilica.
„I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves,“ the Pope said.
„This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.“
„Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness,“ Francis said.
Without naming specific cases, Francis noted that the abuse caused some victims to resort to addictions or even suicide.
„These deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole church,“ he said.
Vatican spokesman the Reverend Federico Lombardi said two Irish people, two Britons and two Germans who had been sexually abused as youths by clergy met privately for about half an hour each with Francis at his Vatican residence.
Some abuse survivors not at the meeting said the encounter would likely do nothing about their complaints the Vatican has failed to punish bishops and other prelates who systemically covered up the abuse of minors.
A German survivor advocacy spokesman, Norbert Denef, called the meeting „nothing more than a PR event“.