Compassion literally means “suffering with” (it’s from the same root as the Passion of Christ, for example, or passionate). That’s what came to mind when I read this from the Associated Press,
With tears in his eyes, Pope Benedict XVI made his most personal gesture yet to respond to the clerical sex abuse scandal Sunday, telling victims the church will do everything possible to protect children and bring abusive priests to justice, the Vatican said.
The emotional moment carried no new admissions from the Vatican, which has strongly rejected accusations that efforts to cover up for abusive priests were directed by the church hierarchy for decades. But the pontiff told the men that the church would “implement effective measures” to protect children, the Vatican said, without offering details.
Benedict met for more than a half-hour with eight Maltese men who say they were abused by four priests when they were boys living at a Catholic orphanage. During the meeting in the chapel at the Vatican’s embassy here, Benedict expressed his “shame and sorrow” at the pain the men and their families suffered, the Vatican said.
“Everybody was crying,” one of the men, Joseph Magro, 38, told Associated Press Television News after the meeting. “I told him my name was Joseph, and he had tears in his eyes.”
The visit — which came on the second day of Benedict’s two-day trip to this largely Roman Catholic island — marked the first time Benedict had met with abuse victims since the worldwide clerical abuse scandal engulfed the Vatican earlier this year.
“He prayed with them and assured them that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future,” the Vatican statement said.
Magro said the men, in their 30s and 40s, received a call Sunday morning to come to the embassy and that the pope spent a few minutes with each of them. He said the overall encounter, which lasted about 35 minutes, was “fantastic.”
Lawrence Grech, who led efforts to arrange the encounter, said the pope told each of the men: “I am very proud of you for having come forward to tell your story.”
Grech said he told the pontiff: “This a one-time opportunity in life … you have the power to fill the emptiness that I had, someone else took my innocence and my faith.”
At the end, they prayed together and the pope gave his blessing, the Vatican said.
“The climate was intense but very serene,” said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
The private meeting was confirmed only after it had occurred — as was the case when Benedict met with abuse victims in the United States and Australia in 2008. He returned to Rome late Sunday.
The most powerful criticism of Church authorities, and loyal Catholics generally, has been that they’ve been so focused on defending the Church against what they (and we) consider unjust attacks that they don’t spend enough time standing in the shoes of the victim, or taking their sides against those who wronged them and were all too often defended by Church authorities. In between the victims and the Church are sometimes-helpful, sometimes-unwelcome mediators like SNAP and BishopAccountability.org; as as those, like Maureen Dowd and Christopher Hitchens, who attempt to hijack these tragedies to try and score cheap rhetorical points against God, the Catholic Church, the male priesthood, or moral conservatism. I applaud Pope Benedict for going around all of these mediators and hijackers to suffer with the victim, to share in their pain. SNAP and BishopAccountability.org remain skeptical about the pope’s desire to clean up the Church — which I still find baffling in light of his actual record on this issue. Nevertheless, it reminds me of a scene from the Gospel. John 11:32-37, which contains the shortest (and perhaps most powerful) verse in Scripture:
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
“Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”