“Must listen to them”

Pope Francis meets regularly with abuse victims. It's important to hear what they feel, he said during a talk with religious. He again strongly condemned sexual abuse in the church.

Abuse victims went through a "very difficult process," saying they were deeply humiliated. "For the church, this is a great shame. This shows not only our fragility, but also, let's put it bluntly, our level of hypocrisy," said the Pope.

The meeting with confreres from the Jesuit order had taken place during his trip to Peru in January; excerpts of the private conversation were published in the Italian newspaper "Corriere della Sera" (Thursday). Francis again strongly condemned sexual abuse in the church. The reference to statistics, according to which the abuse rate in other areas, such as in the family or in sports, are far higher, does not diminish the guilt of the Church in any way: "It is terrible, even if it were only about one of our brothers."

Meets several times a month

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke confirmed Thursday that Pope Francis meets victims of sexual abuse "several times a month". He received both individuals and groups, listening to them and trying to help "heal the serious wounds". According to Burke, the meetings are always held in camera "out of respect for the victims and their suffering".

Priests are anointed by God to sanctify people, young and old, not to destroy them, Francis stressed. He called the abuse cases the "greatest devastation" and "cancers" of the Church, in the face of which one must be "profoundly ashamed".

Abuse cases were also a topic during the pope's trip to Chile and Peru in mid-January. There was criticism for Francis' statement that there was no "evidence" that Juan Barros, who he appointed bishop of Osorno in 2015, had covered up cases of sexual abuse.

Pope apologized for choice of words

A short time later, the pope apologized for his choice of words, which he said hurt victims of sexual abuse. Many victims could not provide evidence of what they had suffered, or were ashamed to disclose it. Instead of "evidence," it is more correct to speak of certain circumstantial evidence, Francis said.

Reports of a Chilean abuse victim's letter about the case, which the Vatican had ignored, caused a stir recently. The pope appointed special investigator Archbishop Charles Scicluna to look into the case in late January.

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