LISBON – On the first day of an August 2-6 trip to Portugal, a country which recently has been embroiled in a clerical sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis met a group of abuse survivors.
In a statement following the Aug. 2 meeting, the Vatican said the pope met with the group after his formal program for the day had concluded, and that 13 people participated in the meeting, which was held at the Vatican’s nunciature, meaning its embassy in Portugal.
Some representatives of church institutions charged with safeguarding efforts in Portugal also participated in the meeting, which according to the Vatican “took place in an atmosphere of intense listening” and which lasted roughly an hour, ending at 8:15 p.m. local time.
The meeting capped a busy first day for Pope Francis in Portugal, where he is attending the international World Youth Day event from Aug. 2-6, making stops in Lisbon and in Fatima.
His visit comes just months after Portugal published the results of a devastating report done by an independent commission investigating clerical sexual abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church, which estimated there have been roughly 5,000 victims since 1950.
The report, published Feb. 13, found that at least 4,815 children had been abused by members of the Catholic Church in Portugal over the past 70 years, but cautioned that this was likely just the “tip of the iceberg.”
Following the scandals, the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference (CEP) apologized and announced its decision to establish a new independent body tasked with listening to and accompanying victims, in addition to gathering further reports.
Prior to his meeting with the abuse survivors on Wednesday, Francis held private meetings with Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Prime Minister Antonio Costa. He also gave a speech to national civil authorities and met with the country’s bishops, clergy and religious.
Local church authorities had previously said the pope would meet with a group of abuse survivors during his visit, but they did not disclose the details in order to protect the victims’ privacy.
Pope Francis alluded to the abuse scandals in his meeting with bishops and clergy earlier that afternoon, saying pastors can often be tempted to feel discouraged amid the many challenges they face, including “secularism, indifference to God and growing detachment from the practice of the faith.”
Feelings of discouragement are often compounded “by the disappointment and anger with which some people view the Church, at times due to our poor witness and the scandals that have marred her face,” he said, saying the scandals “call us to a humble and ongoing purification, starting with the anguished cry of the victims, who must always be accepted and listened to.”
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