When Pope Francis arrived in the U.S. on Tuesday last week, he was personally greeted by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and their families marking the first time in U.S. history a visiting dignitary was personally greeted upon arrival by a sitting president.
The pope’s trip seemed to be off to a good start until Francis empathized with American bishops for their pain during the sex abuse scandal and praised the way they’ve handled it. Abuse victims were left speechless and outraged, wanting to know why the pope hadn’t expressed empathy for their pain.
Church officials hoped the remarks Pope Francis made during his meeting with sex abuse survivors would overshadow his earlier remarks, specifically, his expression of sympathy for clerics and bishops; however, sex abuse survivors remain disappointed and frustrated, saying the Pope’s comments aren’t enough.
In Philadelphia on Sunday, Pope Francis met with victims of clergy sex abuse, three women and two men who are now adults, along with their families. Francis prayed for the victims and blessed them in a meeting that lasted almost two hours, according to a statement released by the Vatican.
“Words cannot fully express my sorrow for the abuse you suffered…. For those who were abused by a member of the clergy, I am deeply sorry for the times when you or your family spoke out, to report the abuse, but you were not heard or believed. Please know that the Holy Father hears you and believes you.”
“I deeply regret that some bishops failed in their responsibility to protect children. It is very disturbing to know that in some cases bishops even were abusers. I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead. Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.”
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called the pope’s meeting with victims “another feel good, do nothing papal meeting with survivors.”
Karen Polesir, whose cousin suffered abuse at the hands of a priest, said of Francis, “I honestly thought that he got it. But after those statements, I knew he clearly didn’t get it at all.”
The pope’s remarks to American bishops in Washington about their courage and generosity in the face of the sexual abuse crisis made his words to the victims “ring hollow, very hollow,” according to Kenneth M. O’Renick, 72, who was 6 when he was abused by a priest at his parish school in Kansas City.
O’Renick added, “He has not even come close to what needs to be done, in my opinion,” he said. “I hope that it gets better, but I’m certainly not as hopeful as I was.”
Pope Francis also visited the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, Philadelphia’s largest prison, where there was a special chair for Francis to sit on, built by the inmates.