PHILADELPHIA - Pope Francis met with a group of survivors of
sexual abuse Sept. 27 and later told bishops that he was
overwhelmed by a sense of embarrassment and was committed to
holding accountable those who harmed children.
In a meeting with cardinals, bishops, priests and seminarians
at St. Charles Borromeo, the pope prefaced his address on the
importance of the family by saying that he had met with the
group as arranged by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J.
Chaput. The Vatican said the 30-minute meeting, with three
women and two men abused by members of the clergy or their
families or their teachers, was held at the seminary shortly
before the pope addressed the bishops.
"It is engraved in my heart, the stories, suffering and pain
of the children abused by priests," the pope said. "I
continue to feel an overwhelming sense of embarrassment
because of those who had in their care the little ones and
caused them great harm.
"I am deeply sorry. God cries," he said.
He said that "the crimes and sin of sexual abuse of children
can no longer remain secret" and that he "committed the close
vigilance of the church to protect the children, and I
promise that all responsible will be held accountable."
In his earlier meetings with bishops during his six-day U.S.
visit, he told them that he continued to be hurt by news of
sexual abuse of children and wanted them to be more vigilant.
For years, the Philadelphia Archdiocese has been rocked by
years of sexual abuse by priests and has sold church-owned
properties and scaled back ministries to settle claims.
Earlier this year, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St.
Joseph, Missouri, resigned after being the first bishop
convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report to
authorities the sexual abuse of children by a priest.
In 2014, Pope Francis met in Rome with victims of sexual
abuse by clergy. However, many groups, including members of
Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests or SNAP,
continue to be critical of the Vatican and claim it has not
done enough for the victims.
In his private meeting at the seminary, Pope Francis told the
survivors that they were an inspiration and "ministers of
mercy." He also prayed with them and said he shared their
pain, suffering and shame.
"We owe each of them and their families a gratitude for their
great courage to bring the light of Christ of the sexual
abuse of children," he told the bishops.
In his address on the importance of the family, Pope Francis
challenged the bishops to provide more pastoral leadership
and guidance in a "consumerism" culture and to encourage
young people to opt for marriage and family despite
challenges that keep many from the sacrament.
His speech at the seminary came about 12 hours after a
star-studded Festival of Families celebration that showcased
the importance of the family. In unscripted remarks at the
festival, Pope Francis said the institution of marriage,
despite its many challenges, should continue to be protected.
"Without the family, not even the church would exist. Nor
could she be what she is called to be, namely 'a sign and
instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the
entire human race,'" the pope said, quoting "Lumen Gentium,"
the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the
"Needless to say, our understanding, shaped by the interplay
of ecclesial faith and the conjugal experience of sacramental
grace, must not lead us to disregard the unprecedented
changes taking place in contemporary society, with their
social, cultural - and now juridical - effects on family
bonds," the pope said.
As the number of marriages decline and more and more states
across the country legalize same-sex marriage, the pope said
the consumerism culture allows people to follow the latest
trends, and their loneliness discourages establishments of
close bonds and the devouring of everything, including
religion, until the next fad.
"Today, consumerism determines what is important," the pope
said. "Consuming relationships, consuming friendships,
consuming religions, consuming, consuming ... whatever the
cost or consequences. A consumption which does not favor
bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human
relationships. Social bonds are a mere 'means' for the
satisfaction of 'my needs.'"
As he had done on several occasions during his U.S. visit to
the United States, the pope challenged the bishops to do more
to help refortify the family, especially the young people,
the future of the church.
"Many young people, in the context of this culture of
discouragement, have yielded to a form of unconscious
acquiescence," he said. "Many put off marriage while waiting
for ideal conditions, when everything can be perfect.
Meanwhile, life goes on, without really being lived to the
"We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the
problems of the world around us and the merits of
Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young
people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family,"
Pope Francis said that priests give up a family to care for a
larger one in an effort to bring them closer to God.
"Our ministry needs to deepen the covenant between the church
and the family," he said. "Otherwise it becomes arid, and the
human family will grow irremediably distant, by our own
fault, from God's joyful good news."
Contributing to this story was Laura Ieraci.