By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI is open to meeting with victims of sexual abuse by clergy, but only far from the media spotlight in a private setting that is conducive to reflection and discretion, said the Vatican spokesman.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told journalists that he could not confirm whether the pope would meet with sex abuse victims during his apostolic visit to Malta April 17-18.
“Time is very short and the program is very intense,” he said during a press conference April 13 detailing the pope’s itinerary, which will span just 26 hours on the ground.
Father Lombardi said the pope has already expressed his wish to meet with more victims, and like previous meetings with victims in Washington and Sydney, Australia, a potential meeting in Malta would not appear on the official schedule.
“It’s not something that is put in a program and announced” ahead of time, he said, adding that he would inform the media immediately when and “if there is something significant to say.”
Such meetings with the pope have always been “in a atmosphere that was distinctly and intentionally reflective and discreet — without the pressure of a media event — so as to also offer the real chance of listening and private conversation,” he said.
Archbishop Paul Cremona of Malta announced that he was meeting with a group of alleged victims of clergy sex abuse after they had asked for a meeting.
“The archbishop has gladly accepted to meet them without any prejudice to the proceedings which are still ongoing in the civil courts as well as before the church’s Response Team,” said a press release published on the archdiocese’s Web site April 13.
One of the alleged victims, Lawrence Grech, who was to be at the meeting with the archbishop, also has called for a meeting in Malta with Pope Benedict. Media reports said he and others had been abused as boys by four priests at the St. Joseph Orphanage in Santa Venera.
The church’s Response Team, which is headed by a judge, was set up in 1999 to handle allegations of sex abuse by clergy and church personnel.
The Malta Archdiocese said April 13 that of the 45 cases the team has received since 1999, 19 were found to have no basis in fact, 13 cases were still pending, and cases against 13 members of the clergy have been forwarded to the Vatican.
In four of the cases referred to the Vatican, the priests were found guilty and sentenced either to be laicized or to be removed from pastoral ministry and kept under supervision and away from minors.
The trials of three priests are still under way at the Vatican and the cases of four others have just concluded and are awaiting judgment. Two other priests have died, the statement said.
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