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Pope meets with clerical abuse survivors, urges Church to hear victims’ ‘anguished cry’

Prior to a private meeting with survivors later in the day, Pope Francis addressed the clergy sex abuse scandal in his address during a vespers service in Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 2, 2023. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Aug 3, 2023 / 11:37 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met with 13 survivors of clerical sex abuse on his first day in Portugal and urged the Church to listen to “the anguished cry of the victims.”

The emotional private meeting at Lisbon’s apostolic nunciature, or Vatican embassy, on Wednesday night was a moment of “intense listening” by the pope and lasted more than an hour, according to the Vatican. Representatives from Catholic institutions working for the protection of minors in Portugal accompanied the victims in the private meeting. 

In a speech to Portuguese clergy immediately before the pope’s encounter with the abuse survivors, Francis acknowledged the “anger with which some people view the Church” due to “the scandals that have marred her face.”

Pope Francis called for “a humble, ongoing purification, starting with the anguished cry of the victims, who must always be accepted and listened to.”

The clerical abuse watchdog BishopAccountability.org issued a statement following the pope’s meeting calling for “true reform” to accompany gestures and apologies, and for the pope to enact a “zero tolerance” policy for abusers.

“The thousands of people who were sexually abused as children in the Portuguese Church deserve better. They deserve the ‘concrete actions’ that the pope repeatedly has promised,” it said.

Earlier this year, an independent investigation commissioned by the Portuguese bishops estimated that 4,815 children had been sexually abused by clerics in Portugal in the past 70 years. The report, based on 512 validated testimonies, found that the majority of the abuse cases (58%) occurred between 1960 and 1990.

Following the report, Catholic bishops in Portugal launched “Grupo Vita” (“Life Group”), a lay commission headed by psychologist Rute Agulhas dedicated to receiving reports of abuse and accompanying victims. 

In March, Portuguese bishops signed a protocol in Fatima with the Portuguese Association for Victim Support outlining steps to ensure “zero tolerance” for abuse during World Youth Day, taking place this week in Lisbon from Aug. 1–6.

Pope Francis previously met with victims of clerical abuse in his travels in the United States, Chile, Ireland, and Canada.

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