Pope MaltaVATICAN CITY - Three days after promising sex-abuse victims in Malta that he would do all he could to bring offenders to justice, Pope Benedict XVI told a Vatican audience that he “assured” the Maltese men of  “Church action” to address priestly sexual abuse.

In a rare public statement April 21 on the sex-abuse scandal, Benedict recounted his meeting with eight Maltese men who were molested as children by priests.

“I shared their suffering and emotionally prayed with them,” the Pope told pilgrims and tourists during his weekly public audience at St. Peter’s Square.

Pope meets Malta abuse victims, expresses shame, sorrow for their suffering

Pope MaltaVALLETTA, Malta - Pope Benedict XVI met with eight victims of priestly sex abuse in Malta and promised them the church would do "all in its power" to bring offenders to justice and protect children.

The Pope was "deeply moved by their stories and expressed his shame and sorrow over what victims and their families have suffered," a Vatican statement said after the private encounter April 18.

"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 statement said.

"In the spirit of his recent letter to the Catholics of Ireland, he prayed that all the victims of abuse would experience healing and reconciliation, enabling them to move forward with renewed hope."

The meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Rabat came after a group of victims had asked to meet with the Pope to tell him of their ordeal and ask for an apology. The encounter was not part of the Pope's official itinerary and was only announced publicly by the Vatican after it had happened.

Participants said the victims cried as they told their stories, and that the Pope had tears in his eyes as he listened.

"We now have peace in our hearts, even because the Pope found time to meet us. We now look forward to the end of the court case, and closure of this chapter," one unidentified victims told the Times of Malta.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told journalists that the private meeting in the chapel of the nunciature lasted about 20 minutes. He said the Pope, Archbishop Paul Cremona of Malta, Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo and eight male victims of abuse began the encounter kneeling in silent prayer. The Pope then stood by the altar and met with each victim one by one to hear his story and to speak with each privately, Lombardi said. The victims were in their 30s and 40s, Lombardi said.

One of the victims, Lawrence Grech, told the Maltese paper that the two bishops with them shed tears during their meeting. Another said the Pope had tears in his eyes.

"I admire the Pope for his courage in meeting us. He was embarrassed by the failings of others," said Grech.

Grech, one of the victims who had asked for the papal meeting, has said he and others were abused as boys by four priests at the St. Joseph Orphanage in Santa Venera.

The meeting came after the Pope returned from a public Mass to the nunciature, where he has been staying during his April 17-18 pilgrimage to Malta.

During his public events in Malta, the Pope did not refer explicitly to the problem of the sexual abuse of minors by priests. He did make two subtle references to the problem when he spoke to journalists aboard the papal flight from Rome to Malta.

Speaking about the vitality of the Catholic faith in Malta, he said even when the body of the Church "is wounded by our sins, God loves this Church, and its Gospel is the true force that purifies and heals."

He then spoke of how St. Paul turned the tragedy of being shipwrecked on Malta into a positive opportunity when he decided to heal the sick and preach the power of Christ. Out of tragedy can come a new beginning and "life's shipwrecks can be part of God's plan for us and they may also be useful for new beginnings in our lives," the Pope said.

Cremona had met April 13 with a group of victims, including Grech, at their request. That meeting, which lasted two and a half hours, was "a great help" to the victims, Grech told reporters. Grech said Cremona listened carefully to each victim. He said his only wish was that the meeting with Cremona had happened earlier.

"We have been waiting for seven years for our case to end but justice has not yet been done," he told reporters April 16.

Welcoming the pope at Malta's international airport April 17, President George Abela said "the Catholic church remains committed to safeguarding children and all vulnerable people, and to seeing that there is no hiding place for those who seek to do harm."

A group of 10 victims announced April 16 that they had been granted a meeting with the promoter of justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Msgr. Charles Scicluna. The meeting with the monsignor, who handles the cases local dioceses have brought against allegedly abusive priests, was to take place sometime in June at the Vatican.

In an extensive interview with the Times of Malta April 11, Scicluna, who is from Malta, said the church is still "on a learning curve" concerning the handling of sex abuse allegations and that they "should learn to do things more expeditiously."

"I think that efforts to render the process more transparent will only help the church," he said.

He said the doctrinal congregation has had to deal with "the frustration some of them (cases of abuse) made us feel because justice was not meted out as it should be."

Justice has not always been served, he said, "because of a misplaced sense of protection of the institution; the mentality that you don't criticize the clergy because otherwise you're going to betray the institution," he said.

While he has said there is "a culture of silence" in Italy, he added that that same culture of not speaking out about abuse exists in all parts of the world.

Benedict XVI leads faithful back to basics

Pope Benedict XVIEditor’s Note: April 19 marks the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI’s selection as pontiff. Headlines of recent weeks have focussed attention on the church’s clerical sex abuse scandal. That issue is covered elsewhere in this edition. Here we analyse Benedict’s first half decade, a busy and productive period for the now 83-year-old Pope.

VATICAN CITY - At the five-year mark, two key objectives of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate have come into clear focus: creating space for religion in the public sphere and space for God in private lives.

In hundreds of speeches and homilies, in three encyclicals, on 14 foreign trips, during synods of bishops and even through new web sites, the German pontiff has confronted what he calls a modern “crisis of faith,” saying the root cause of moral and social ills is a reluctance to acknowledge the truth that comes from God.

Poland mourns a faithful Catholic

Polish DisplayWARSAW, Poland  - Poland’s Catholic primate has urged fellow citizens to see the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others in a weekend air disaster as a “dramatic challenge” to build “a fuller community” at the national level and with neighbouring states.

“We are all asking ourselves the same painful question — how was this possible?” Archbishop Henryk Muszynski of Gniezno said at an April 11 Mass in his archdiocese.

Advocates see momentum against nuclear weapons gaining

OTTAWA - Unprecedented momentum is building towards a nuclear weapon-free world and the opportunity must not be lost, says Douglas Roche.

“This is certainly the most opportune moment that I have experienced in my lifetime for real concrete movement towards the elimination of nuclear weapons,” former senator Roche told journalists after an April 9 meeting with Stephen Harper.

A holy couple reunited in heaven

St. Gianna Beretta Molla with her then fiance, Pietro MollaEarly on Holy Saturday morning, Pietro Molla, husband of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, died in his family home in Mesero, near Milan in Italy, surrounded by his daughters Gianna Emanuela and Laura, and son Pierluigi. He was 97 years old and had been in failing health for several years.

I have been good friends with the Molla family since 1999 and St. Gianna is the patron saint of Salt + Light Catholic Television Network. I was blessed to accompany the Molla family in the years leading up to the 2004 canonization of St. Gianna, a great contemporary woman, saint, wife, mother, medical doctor and lover of life.

For Iraqi refugees, the healing begins with pain

{mosimage}DAMASCUS, Syria - On Passion Sunday, no matter where we are, we witness a struggle between the human and what we would like to call the inhuman.

In Damascus among the Iraqi Christians, it’s hard to think of that drama as far away in time or geography. The refugees — afraid and often wounded in body and mind by their experience — are painfully and obviously human. The violence they have fled and their lives of waiting and hoping as they grow poorer in Damascus are exactly what we mean when we call anything inhuman.

Jesus is fully and completely human — human as God intended humanity to be. The forces lined up to hang Him on the cross are the ones that rob us of our humanity in every age.

Former Judicial Vicar denounces Times reporting


{mosimage}In a harsh indictment of The New York Times, the former Judicial Vicar for the archdiocese of Milwaukee has accused the newspaper of using “sloppy and inaccurate reporting” to wrongly link Pope Benedict XVI to the scandal of priest abuser Fr. Lawrence Murphy.

Fr. Thomas Brundage, who presided over the canonical proceeding against Murphy in the 1990s, released a letter March 29 in which he states The Times never contacted him for comment and that documents allegedly authored by him and quoted in newspaper articles were not his.

“The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting,” wrote Brundage. “The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them.

Vatican defends action in case of Wisconsin priest abuser

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - The Vatican defended a decision not to laicize a Wisconsin priest who sexually abused deaf children, despite the recommendation of his bishop that he be removed from the priesthood.

In a statement responding to a report in the New York Times, the Vatican said that by the time it learned of the case in the late 1990s, the priest was elderly and in poor health. The Vatican eventually suggested that the priest continue to be restricted in ministry instead of laicized, and he died four months later, the Vatican said.

Obama signs executive order on abortion in health care legislation

{mosimage}WASHINGTON - In a quiet ceremony before more than a dozen members of Congress, mostly Catholics, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order stipulating that no federal funds would be used to pay for abortions under the new health reform law.

The ceremony was closed to the media and the president delivered no remarks about the order, which was promised to a group of pro-life House Democrats in exchange for their votes in favour of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The legislation passed by a 219-212 vote late March 21.

Vatican defends action in case of Wisconsin priest abuser

{mosimage}VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican defended a decision not to laicize a Wisconsin priest who sexually abused deaf children, despite the recommendation of his bishop that he be removed from the priesthood.

In a statement responding to a report in the New York Times, the Vatican said that by the time it learned of the case in the late 1990s, the priest was elderly and in poor health. The Vatican eventually suggested that the priest continue to be restricted in ministry instead of laicized, and he died four months later, the Vatican said.