Abuse lobby urges Pope not to meet victims in Germany


THE US clerical sex abuse survivors’ lobby has called on Pope Benedict XVI not to meet sex abuse victims during his forthcoming visit to his native Germany.

At a Rome news conference yesterday, survivors’ lobby director Barbara Blaine argued that such high-profile meetings between the Pope and victims represented little more than “good PR” for the Holy See.

There has been speculation in the media that, as he did during previous visits to the US, Australia, Malta and Britain, the Pope will again meet what the survivors’ lobby calls “a small, handpicked group” of victims.

In a statement yesterday, it said: “We urge him not to. Such a meeting will, no doubt, make the few participants, and many Catholics, feel better in the short term, but in the long term, it will only add to the sense of betrayal and disappointment that millions – inside and outside of the church – feel about this pontiff and this crisis.”

The lobby also indicated that activists would be following the Pope during the four-day visit to Germany, implying that some form of protest may be planned.

Yesterday’s news conference, on “the Pope’s doorstep”, was essentially called to further illustrate the terms of the case dossier which the survivors’ lobby and the US-based Centre For Constitutional Rights have presented to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

It calls on the court to investigate both the Holy See and Pope Benedict for “crimes against humanity” in relation to its handling of the sex abuse crisis.

The survivors’ lobby and the Centre for Constitutional Rights yesterday rejected the suggestion that this move was merely a publicity stunt, with the centre’s human rights attorney Pam Spees arguing that the Holy See had a very serious case to answer within the terms of “superior responsibility” in relation to “systematic and widespread” crimes of sexual abuse by priests.

“A superior can be held responsible if he has failed to prevent, or to punish or to hand over to the civil authorities a person committing serious crimes,” Ms Spees said.

The 22,000-page case dossier argues that the Holy See is morally culpable on two fronts, both in relation to the sex crimes committed and the church’s handling of those crimes. It is in this latter context that the dossier names Pope Benedict, as well as cardinals Angelo Sodano, Tarcisio Bertone and William Levada, as “bearing the greatest responsibility for a system of sexual violence”.

In particular, the dossier argues that the church’s handling of the sex abuse crisis is the expression of a “company culture” of cover-up.

Ms Blaine said: “There is a policy of cover-ups. Whether it is Ireland or the US or Belgium . . . these things [cover-ups] occur all over the place . . . and these are policies and practices that emerged from Rome.”

The survivors’ group and the centre argue that if the Holy See was serious about dealing with the crisis, the Pope would introduce a “zero tolerance” policy rather than continuing to “tolerate predator priests within the church”.