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The New York Times

April 16, 2008

Pope Fails to Placate Abuse Victims

By Ian Urbina and Abby Goodnough

WASHINGTON — Far from tamping down emotions, Pope Benedict XVI’s expression of remorse on Tuesday for the church’s sexual abuse scandal prompted an angry and skeptical response from victims, who said they wanted actions, not words from the Vatican.

“He talks about feeling shame for the scandal but it’s a far cry from the shame that victims have had to live with our entire lives,” said Becky Ianni, 50, an abuse victim who joined a vigil in front of St. Dominic’s Catholic Church here.

Holding an eight-foot-long vinyl banner with photographs of more than 60 children abused by priests, a group of about a half-dozen victims and supporters gathered to voice their frustrations with the pope.

The protesters explained that the 15 or so faces on the banner that were framed with black boxes were those of abuse victims who committed suicide.

“We don’t really need his sense of shame,” said Ms. Ianni, who said she was abused by her parish priest in Alexandria Va., from age 9 to 11. “We need him to take firm actions to correct the situation.”

Speaking to reporters on his flight to the United States, Benedict addressed the scandal that has produced more than 13,000 sexual abuse victims and cost the church more than $2 billion.

“It is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the church in general and for me personally that this could happen,” Benedict said, adding that he would work to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood. “It is difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betray in this way their mission.”

Robert Costello, however, was among the child abuse victims not moved by the pope’s remarks. “I think they were rehearsed,” he said.

At a news conference in Boston organized by a victims’ group, Mr. Costello, who said he was abused by a priest in West Roxbury, Mass., starting when he was 10, said he was shocked that the pope would talk about his own suffering and that of the church while making no mention of the harm done to victims.

“What about the suffering of the children?” he said, adding that he planned to travel to New York to read aloud the names of victims on Friday while the pope addresses the United Nations.

David Carney, who says a priest abused him during his freshman year at Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury, also dismissed the pope’s comments as insincere.

“Don’t sit around on your plane and talk about it,” said Mr. Carney, 41, who also attended the Boston news conference. “If you’re ashamed about it, do something about it.”

At the vigil in Washington, another victim, Peter Isley, who is a national board member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the pope’s comments rang hollow.

“The pope says he has empathy and that he doesn’t understand how this could happen, and yet he is not willing to talk to actual victims to get our input,” he said.

Various victims’ organizations requested several months ago that the pope or his representatives meet with them during the papal visit, Mr Isley said, but all such requests were met with silence.

Mr. Isley added that like most victims, he wants two clear actions from the pope. First, he wants him to announce this week that he plans to change canon law so that every priest who has assaulted a child anywhere in the world will be removed from ministry. Second, he wants the pope to announce plans to take disciplinary action against any bishop who has been involved in covering up an assault.

Anne Barrett Doyle co-director of Bishop Accountability, a Web site that documents the sexual abuse scandal, expressed similar skepticism. She said that what the pope did not say is more important that what he did.

“Rather than shifting attention to pedophile priests, he needs to focus on the culpability of bishops,” she said. “The crisis occurred because many U.S. bishops were willing to hide their priests’ crimes from the police with lies.”

Ian Urbina reported from Washington, and Abby Goodnough from Boston.

Copyright © 2008 The New York Times

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests