VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told a group of Jesuits
in Peru that he often meets on Fridays with survivors of sex abuse.
The meetings, which he said do not always become public
knowledge, make it clear that the survivors' process of recovery "is very
hard. They remain annihilated. Annihilated," the pope had told the Jesuits
Jan. 19 in Lima.
The scandal of clerical sexual abuse shows not only the
"fragility" of the Catholic Church, he said, "but also -- let us
speak clearly -- our level of hypocrisy."
The director of the Vatican press office Feb. 15 confirmed
that the pope's meetings with abuse survivors is regular and ongoing.
"I can confirm that several times a month, the Holy
Father meets victims of sexual abuse both individually and in groups,"
said Greg Burke, the director. "Pope Francis listens to the victims and
tries to help them heal the serious wounds caused by the abuse they've
suffered. The meetings take place with maximum reserve out of respect for the
victims and their suffering."
On his trips abroad, Pope Francis usually spends time with
local Jesuit communities and holds a question-and-answer session with them.
Weeks later, a transcript of the exchange is published by Civilta Cattolica, a
Jesuit journal in Rome.
The transcribed and translated texts from Pope Francis' conversations
with Jesuits in Chile Jan. 16 and in Peru three days later were released in
Italian and English by Civilta Cattolica Feb. 15 with the pope's approval, the
The Jesuits in Chile had not asked the pope about the abuse
scandal, even though the scandal was in the news, particularly because of
ongoing controversy over the pope's appointment in 2015 of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who had
been accused of covering up the abuse committed by his mentor, Father Fernando
Pope Francis met with the Jesuits in Santiago at the end of
his first full day in Chile. Earlier that day he had met with "a small
group" of people who had been abused by Chilean priests, according to the
Vatican press office.
The meeting with the survivors and with the Chilean Jesuits took
place days before Chilean reporters asked Pope Francis about the accusations
against Bishop Barros and he replied, "The day they bring me proof against
Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It
is calumny. Is that clear?"
The pope later apologized for the remark and, soon after
returning to Rome, sent Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, an experienced
investigator, to Chile to conduct interviews.
After the pope left Chile and flew on to Peru, the topic of
abuse was even more pressing. In the context of a discussion about spiritual
"consolation" and "desolation," one Jesuit told the pope,
"I would like you to say something about a theme that leads to a lot of
desolation in the church, and particularly among religious men and women and
the clergy: the theme of sexual abuse. We are very disturbed by these
Abuse, Pope Francis replied, "is the greatest
desolation that the church is suffering. It brings shame, but we need to
remember that shame is also a very Ignatian grace." In his Spiritual
Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, encouraged people to
contemplate Jesus' goodness and their own wickedness, asking for the grace to
The pope told the Peruvian Jesuits that it is a temptation
for people in the church to seek a "consolation prize" by comparing
statistics about abuse within the church and abuse within families or in other
But even if the abuse rate is lower in the church, the pope
said, "it is terrible even if only one of our brothers is such! For God
anointed him to sanctify children and adults, and instead of making them holy
he has destroyed them. It's horrible! We need to listen to what someone who has
been abused feels."
At that point the pope told the Jesuits in Peru, "On
Fridays -- sometimes this is known and sometimes it is not known -- I normally
meet some of them. In Chile I also had such a meeting."
The abuse scandal is "a great humiliation" for the Catholic Church, he
said. "It shows not only our fragility, but also -- let us say so clearly
-- our level of hypocrisy."
Pope Francis also told the Jesuits in Peru that "it is
notable that there are some newer congregations whose founders have fallen into
these abuses." He did not specify which congregations, however.
In the "new, prosperous congregations" where abuse
has been a problem, he said, there is a combination of an abuse of authority,
sexual abuse and "an economic mess. There is always money involved. The
devil enters through the wallet."