Pope 'shaken' after meeting abuse victims in Germany

AFP , Saturday 24 Sep 2011

Pope Benedict XVI "deeply shaken" after meeting with the victims of sexual abuse by priests, vowing commitment to effective protection for children and young people

Pope Benedict XVI attended an open air mass for around 30,000 people Saturday, a day after an "emotional" meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests left him "deeply shaken."

The evening meeting in Erfurt with three men and two women lasted half an hour and was "very, very emotional," Hans Langendoerfer, the coordinator of the pontiff's four-day tour of his native Germany, told AFP.

"Moved and deeply shaken by the suffering of the victims, the Holy Father expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families," the Vatican said in a statement after the talks.

The meeting was keenly awaited in Germany, which was rocked last year by revelations that hundreds of people had been molested in Roman Catholic institutions decades ago.

The resulting scandal badly dented the image of the Church in Germany, which has roughly even numbers of Catholics and Lutherans, with members leaving at a rate of around three every minute in part as a result of the crisis.

The 84-year-old pontiff vowed to the victims that Church officials would "deal with all crimes of abuse" and were "committed to the promotion of effective measures for the protection of children and young people."

"Pope Benedict XVI is close to the victims and he expresses the hope that the merciful God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind may heal the wounds of the victims and grant them inner peace," the Vatican said.

On the journey from Rome for his first state visit to his homeland, the pope told reporters he could understand those who had decided to leave the Church as a result of the scandal.

"I can understand that in the face of such reports, people, especially those close to victims, would say 'this isn't my Church anymore'," the pope said in reference to widespread abuse by clergy.

Around 9,000 protesters, some dressed as nuns and condoms, demonstrated against the pope in Berlin on Thursday and many vented their fury over the abuse revelations.

And the pope's gesture to a handful of abuse victims left some campaigners cold.

Peter Bringmann-Henselder, from a group representing those abused by paedophile priests, said the meeting was "a slap in the face, because there were no actions."

"The Vatican should open up its archives, where the abuse is documented. They should finally be investigated. It doesn't mean anything, in our eyes, for the pope to meet a few people who have stayed true to the Church," he said.

"Many people left the Church and he does not want to meet those."

Large-scale paedophilia scandals have also shaken the Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Ireland, Austria, Belgium and the United States.

During a visit to Britain this time last year, the pope met five survivors and expressed his "deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes."

The pope has previously met with victims while on visits to Malta, the United States and Australia. In Malta the victims said the pope wept as he met them.

Addressing a cheering, flag-waving crowd of around 30,000 in the city of Erfurt, in former East Germany, Benedict paid tribute to those Catholics who had kept the faith burning during Nazi and Communist regimes.

"You have had to endure first a brown and then a red dictatorship, which acted on the Christian faith like acid rain," he told worshippers. Erfurt was home to one of the most resilient Catholic communities under communism.

On the first two days of his visit, Benedict met members of Germany's Jewish and Muslim communities and then held prayers with Protestant leaders in a show of greater Christian unity.

He said the different wings of the Christian Church should "keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularisation."

But the service, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Lutheran, also attended, disappointed some who said the pope had failed to match a conciliatory message with concrete action to heal the 500-year-old rift between the Churches.

Later Saturday, the pope heads to Freiburg in the southwest of the country, one of Germany's most staunchly Catholic cities, where he will hold a prayer vigil with young people and celebrate a mass on Sunday for tens of thousands.

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