Local victim speaks out about priest who sexually abused her as Pope meets with victims

VATICAN CITY (WJLA/AP) - Pope Francis begged forgiveness Monday from the victims of clergy sex abuse as he held his first meeting with several abuse survivors. He also promised to hold bishops accountable for the protection of minors.

The pope celebrated a Mass with six survivors at his Vatican hotel Monday, but in his homily he didn't spell out whether that accountability would include firing bishops and other prelates who systematically shuffled pedophile priests from parish to parish to avoid bringing shame upon the Catholic church.

Victims' advocacy groups around the world have pressed the Vatican for decades to severely discipline any complicit church hierarchy.

Even while the pope spent his morning with the three men and three women, listening to their stories one by one, several victims' groups blasted the meetings as being "a PR event."

The Vatican quoted Francis as expressing personal "sorrow" in his homily at the private Mass with the victims for the "sins and grave crimes" of clerical sex abuse against them.

Francis pledged "not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not."

"All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable," Francis said, according to the English translation of his homily, which was delivered in Spanish.

The meeting was a first for Pope Francis.

Becki Ianni of Burke, Va., a former abuse victim of a priest herself, told ABC7 she is not impressed.

"To me, it's a PR move," she said.

Ianni says she was abused by her family's priest when she was in elementary school - but the priest committed suicide before he could be prosecuted.

Ianni said she received a letter of apology from the Catholic Church, acknowledging what she had gone through.

Ianni said she views today's meeting of the Pope and six victims a nice gesture, but that the church needs to take action.

"I hope that the victims he met with...I hope they find healing," she said. "It is brave of them to meet with him, but the meeting today isn't going to protect a child, and that's what we need to do."

Parishioners attending daily mass at Cathedral of Saint Thomas Moore in Arlington Monday said they are encouraged by the Pope's meeting.

"I just really feel that he is going to do what is right," said parishioner Maryanne Reed Brown. "It's a very, very sad situation, but I think he is going to try to make people feel better."

"I'm for it, 100-percent," said parishioner Ed Lebiedz. "I think it has to be done so we can move on."

Many victims, especially in the United States, were outraged when Boston Archbishop Bernard Law, blamed for the cover-ups of abusive priests during his tenure, was given a prestigious post at a Rome basilica instead of being demoted.

"I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves," the Pope said Monday. "This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk."

"Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness," Francis said in his homily.

Without naming specific cases, Francis noted the abuse caused some victims to resort to addictions or even suicide.

"These deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole church," he said.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said two Irish, two British and two German victims met with the pope. The six adults who had been sexually abused as youths by clergy met privately for about a half-hour each with Francis at his Vatican residence.

None of the victims who met with the Pope wanted to speak with reporters, Lombardi said.

Some abuse survivors not at the meeting said the encounter would likely do nothing about their complaints the Vatican has failed to punish bishops and other prelates who systemically covered up the abuse of minors. A German survivor advocacy spokesman, Norbert Denef, called Monday's meeting "nothing more than a PR event."

Prior to the meetings Monday, Francis has likely already met one Irish survivor of sex abuse by clergy, Marie Collins. She has spent time at the Vatican this year because she's on a panel set up by Francis to help him deal with the scandals staining the church's reputation in many countries.

Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict, met several times with abuse victims, starting in 2008.

{ }