Pope meets German sex abuse survivors


POPE BENEDICT was left “shaken and shamed” after a meeting with five survivors of clerical sex abuse in Germany before concluding a four-day visit to his homeland yesterday.

In his final homily, at a Mass attended by 100,000 people in Freiburg, the 84-year-old pontiff gave his clearest signal yet that Catholic reformers should not hold their breath for change during his papacy.

On Saturday Pope Benedict met with three men and two women who had contacted a church hotline in recent years to report being abused as children by clerics. At a “highly emotional” meeting, the Pope expressed his shame at what had happened in the church, a spokesman said, and expressed hope that God would “heal the wounds of the victims and grant them inner peace”.

“The Holy Father expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families,” said the Vatican.

“He assured those present that . . . the church [is] seriously concerned to deal with all crimes of abuse and are committed to the promotion of effective measures for the protection of children and young people.” In a visit marked by huge open-air Masses and only scattered protests, the Pope said reform could only come after a “renewal of faith inside the church” – particularly among those in the church whose faith had become “routine”.

“The real crisis in the church of the western world is a crisis of faith,” said the Pope. Then, in a clear message to the German Catholic Church’s estranged liberal and conservative camps, he added: “The church in Germany will overcome the great challenges of the present and future . . . if she remains faithfully united with the successors of Saint Peter and the apostles.”

On Saturday in the eastern city of Erfurt he praised local Christians – who make up just 8 per cent of the total population – for enduring “first a brown and then a red dictatorship, which acted like acid rain on the Christian faith”.

Travelling back through Germany’s history he praised those who had brought the Christian faith to Germany, including Cavan-born St Cillian in the seventh century.

“Together with two companions he died in Würzburg as a martyr because he criticised the moral misconduct of the Duke of Thuringia whose seat was in that place,” said the Pope, recalling priests and laypersons who showed bravery in times of war and dictatorship.

Before the Pope arrived at Saturday’s Erfurt Mass, a man caused a minor security scare by wounding a security guard with an air pistol.

Ending his four-day journey in the largely Catholic city of Freiburg in Germany’s southwest, the Pope held a meeting with former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi said the Pope had coped with the heavy schedule “very well”. “It is wonderful how he experiences all moments of this trip really intensively.”

The visit has prompted a mixed reaction among the country’s 24 million Catholics and apathy among the rest of the population.

In his final speech yesterday afternoon, he said the church could do its missionary work best when it “freed itself from material and political ballast”.

Church watchers saw this as a signal to German bishops to look again at their system of “church tax”, a source of €5 billion income annually. The rules governing the compulsory tax for Catholics – in particular excommunicating those who do not wish to pay – have been called into question by the Vatican and are the subject of an ongoing legal dispute in Germany.