At the end of the General Audience on Wednesday, May 3, Pope Francis received several victims who were sexually abused by members of the clergy. The victims were from Slovenia and among them was a priest, who was also a victim. “My name is Janez Cerar, I am a Slovenian Catholic priest and I work with vulnerable children. I myself am a survivor of sexual abuses,” he said to the daily Il Messaggero.
Two days later, the Holy Father addressed a message to the Members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Holy See’s organism that advises the Pontiff on actions to eradicate sexual abuse in the Church.
It was in this context that on Friday, May 5, the Holy Father recounted an experience he had with survivors. Understood by the way he spoke, was that he was not referring to the Slovenian victims but to another meeting, which did not take place in Saint Peter’s Square.
The Pontiff revealed: “A short time ago I met with a group of survivors of abuse who requested an interview with the Directorship of the Religious Institute that ran the school they attended some 50 years ago. I mention this because they lamented it openly. They were all elderly men and some of them, conscious of how quickly time passes, expressed their desire to live the last years of their life in peace. And, for them, peace meant renewing their relationship with the Church that had offended them. They wanted to close not only the evil they had suffered, but also the questions they carried inside since then. They wanted to be listened to, to be believed; they wanted someone to help them understand.
The Pontiff also said that, in that meeting, “we talked together,” and the victims “had the courage to open up. In particular, the daughter of one of those mistreated spoke about the impact her father’s experience had on all her family.” The Pope responded saying that to “repair the torn tissue of history is a redeeming act, it’s the act of the Suffering Servant, who did not avoid pain, but took upon Himself the iniquity of us all (cf. Isaiah
The Holy Father ended the meeting saying that “in this concrete case, I can say that for these survivors a real dialogue took place during the meetings, at the end of which they said they felt welcomed by brothers and regained a sentiment of hope in the future.”
All this is evidence of a welcoming pastoral care that so often is not publicized but which does happen. It is pastoral care that is not only right and necessary and not geared to improving the public projection of an institution, but to contributing to the healing of those that have suffered.