VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis asked for the forgiveness of the victims of clerical sexual abuse during their first meeting since he was elected as pope in March 2013.
The pontiff told the victims on Monday that their abuse was “camouflaged with a complicity” adding that priests who have abused them have no place in the Holy Catholic Church.
He condemned the Church and how it collaborated to hide these abuses, which he called blasphemous acts that insulted God, and said that it must now weep and make reparation for the hideous crimes the priests have committed.
“I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately [to reports of sex abuse],” he added.
According to the people who organized the meeting, it happened right after the Pope’s private morning mass in his Vatican residence.
Prior to their private meeting, the six abuse survivors first saw the Pope when he greeted them at a dinner on Sunday evening.
Federico Lombardi, the spokesperson of the Vatican, said in a press conference that two Irish, two British and two German victims met separately with Pope Francis for about half an hour each. He added that none of the victims wanted to talk to the press.
The pope have expressed earlier this year his disappointment and dubbed the sexual abuse of children by priests as a “Satanic mass.” He also said that the he would not show any tolerance for any cleric of the Catholic Church who is proven to be sexually abusive.
Francis has been noticeably slow to speak out on abuse issues, which has scarred the image of the Catholic for decades. He has only met abuse victims once as opposed to his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who have met them several times during his trips outside Italy.
Victim groups are skeptical about the private meeting that happened in Vatican because according to them the Pope has a blemished record of dealing with abuse cases in Argentina when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Argentinian victims have already sent the Pope letters as regards this issue.
Experts say that the Pope is being cautious because he may be concerned about the risk of encouraging false accusations that can permanently damage an innocent priest’s career and reputation, but the real reason behind the Pope’s slow approach is still unclear as of the moment.
In 2013, Pope Francis strengthened the laws on child abuse and broadened the scope of crimes against children to include pedophilia. However, the mandate does not cover all Catholic states and only applies to clergymen and prelates who work in Vatican.