I feel ashamed, tearful Pope tells victims of clerical abuse

During first face-to-face meeting, pontiff assures Catholics that church will protect youngsters in future

Pope Benedict XVI bowed to mounting pressure yesterday and met victims of clerical sex abuse for the first time since the start of the global paedophilia scandal engulfing the Roman Catholic Church.

The pontiff expressed his "shame and sorrow" at the suffering of the eight men and their families, and prayed with them during the meeting at the Vatican's Maltese embassy.

The encounter, which the Vatican appeared to have resisted at first, dominated his visit to the devout Mediterranean nation, his first overseas trip since the start of the scandal. It also marked a sober milestone on the eve of the fifth anniversary of his often troubled papacy.

At noon, a van with a police escort carrying eight men was driven into the grounds of the Apostolic Nunciature in Rabat for the closed meeting. They included Lawrence Grech, 37, a spokesman of the victims who says he was repeatedly attacked as a child at a church-run orphanage. He had called on the Pope to "recognise that these things happened in Malta, reflect about the victims' suffering and issue a formal apology".

Benedict told the eight victims, all in their 30s and 40s, that the Catholic Church would implement "effective measures" to protect young people in the future, but gave no further details.

"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," Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi said.

"Everybody was crying," one of the men, Joseph Magro, 38, said after the meeting. "I told him my name was Joseph, and he had tears in his eyes."

He said the men received a call yesterday morning to come to the embassy and that the Pope spent a few minutes with each one of them. He said the overall encounter, which lasted about 35 minutes, was "fantastic".

"The climate was intense but very serene," the Rev Lombardi said.

The meetings came after Benedict led Mass for more than 10,000 people in front of the island's St Publius Church.

Officially, Benedict's visit was meant to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of Saint Paul's shipwreck on Malta, but the world-wide paedophilia scandal was the centre of attention during the weekend's whistle-stop tour. News that 25 of the island's 855 priests face abuse allegations, has shocked the Maltese.

The eight men who met Benedict yesterday form part of a group of 10 who say that they were repeatedly abused by Catholic priests at the St Joseph Home orphanage in the 1980s. Three priests have been charged with sex offences.

Benedict himself has been accused by victims' groups and their lawyers of being part of the systematic cover-up by the church hierarchy of paedophile priests, in his earlier roles as an archbishop in Germany and later at the helm of the Vatican morals office. The Vatican has said it is the victim of a witch hunt.

At yesterday's Mass, on the island's largest square, Archbishop Paul Cremona of Malta, avoided any mention of the abuse scandals but said that the "Church must be humble enough to recognise the failures and sins of its members".

Benedict made no direct reference to the scandals during the Mass. He told the Maltese to cling to their faith despite the temptations of modern society.

"Many voices try to persuade us to put aside our faith in God and his Church," he warned. In particular, Benedict called on the devout Maltese to adhere to their strict interpretation of the Catholic faith. Abortion is illegal in Malta as is divorce – although an increasing number of Maltese are in favour of allowing the latter. But during his visit the Pope reiterated the Vatican's anti-divorce stance.

Malta has one priest for every 490 Catholics, compared with a global average of one in nearly 2,900, according to Church statistics.

Security in Malta was extremely tight after vandals defaced billboards promoting the papal visit. The Maltese word for "paedophile" was spray-painted on one billboard. On others, Hitler-style moustaches were daubed on images of the pontiff.

Benedict flew back to Rome yesterday where he will will today have a special lunch with cardinals to mark the fifth anniversary of his election as Pope.

Suggested Topics
News
newsVideo targets undecided voters
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
News
Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat, dropped out of Stanford University just before graduation to develop his app
techAnd yes, it is quite a lot
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Retail Business Architect

Flexible for the right candidate: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: I have a fa...

Calypso Developer

£500 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Calypso Developer Calypso, J2SE, XML, ...

IT Developer/Analyst

£35000 - £36000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A market leading financia...

Pricing Manager, Finance, Edinburgh, £250-350p/d

£250 - £350 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is cur...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis