The Pope has met victims of clerical sex abuse in London today, a press release from the Vatican Press Office has revealed.
The press release said that the Pope met several people who were sexually abused by “members of the clergy”, at the Apostolic Nunciature, in Wimbledon, West London.
The Holy Father is said to have been “moved by what they had to say”, and to have “expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered”.
The Pope is said to have prayed with them and to have assured them that the Church is “continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people, and that it is doing all in its power to investigate allegations, to collaborate with civil authorities, and to bring to justice clergy and religious accused of these egregious crimes”.
The Pope then prayed that all victims of abuse might “experience healing and reconciliation, and be able to overcome their past and present distress with serenity and hope for the future”.
In addition to the victims of sexual abuse, the Pope also met nine people involved in safeguarding children from sexual abuse by priests and other Church figures. The meeting lasted around 15 minutes, and took place at St Peter’s Residence, in Vauxhall.
Bill Kilgallon, the chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission of England and Wales, commented on the meeting, saying that while it was his suggestion that the Pope meet with victims of abuse, “the Pope’s advisers immediately accepted it”.
“He’s met victims of abuse in many countries”, Mr Kilgallon said, but “this is the first time he’s met people involved in safeguarding.”
Asked what the Pope said about the Church’s cooperation with the civil authorities in the United Kingdom on issues of sexual abuse, Mr Kilgallon said that the Pope was “impressed”, and had said “this is very important”.
Mr Kilgallon said that at the meeting he had received “very clear support from the Pope for the approach we are taking, he was really positive about that approach – having independence built in at every stage and referring all allegations to the police and social services, and having very robust selection procedures for selecting volunteers and candidates to the priesthood.”
In reference to demands for the Vatican to hand over its files, Mr Kilgallon said: “In this country we have no files that we would not share with the statutory authorities. So we’ve got a policy of immediate referral to statutory authorities, and I think, for our countries of England and Wales, it works, and I think we should always be doing that.”
“There is a procedure when matters get to a certain stage, when they have to be referred to the Vatican”, he said, “the stage of conviction.”
Mr Kilgallon added that files “may be referred to the Vatican earlier if they are serious. Papers would usually only go to the Vatican if there were an intention to laicise.”