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Updated: Pope told Jesuits he regularly meets abuse survivors, journal reports

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

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 journal said.

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 Karadima.

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 scandals."

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 be ashamed.

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 organizations.

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."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Lent is time to notice God's work, receive God's mercy, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Lent is a time for Christians to get their hearts in sync with the heart of Jesus, Pope Francis said.

"Let the Lord heal the wounds of sin and fulfill the prophecy made to our fathers: 'A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,'" the pope said Feb. 14, celebrating Mass and distributing ashes at the beginning of Lent.

After a brief prayer at the Benedictine's Monastery of St. Anselm, Pope Francis made the traditional Ash Wednesday procession to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome's Aventine Hill for the Mass.

He received ashes on his head from 93-year-old Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, and he distributed ashes to the cardinals present, three Benedictines, three Dominicans, an Italian couple with two children and members of the Pontifical Academy for Martyrs, which promotes the traditional Lenten "station church" pilgrimage in Rome.

In his homily, he said the church gives Christians the 40 days of Lent as a time to reflect on "anything that could dampen or even corrode our believing heart."

Everyone experiences temptation, the pope said. Lent is a time to pause and step back from situations that lead to sin, a time to see how God is at work in others and in the world and, especially, a time to return to the Lord, knowing that his mercy is boundless.

Lent, he said, is a time "to allow our hearts to beat once more in tune with the vibrant heart of Jesus."

Hitting the reset button, the pope said, requires taking a pause from "bitter feelings, which never get us anywhere" and from a frantic pace of life that leaves too little time for family, friends, children, grandparents and God.

People need to pause from striving to be noticed, from snooty comments and "haughty looks," he said; instead, they need to show tenderness, compassion and even reverence for others.

"Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence," the pope said.

Use the pauses of Lent "to look and contemplate," he suggested. Christians can learn from seeing the gestures others make that "keep the flame of faith and hope alive."

"Look at faces alive with God's tenderness and goodness working in our midst," the pope said, pointing to the faces of families who struggle to survive yet continue to love, the wrinkled faces of the elderly "that reflect God's wisdom at work" and the faces of the sick and their caregivers who "remind us that the value of each person can never be reduced to a question of calculation or utility."

"See the remorseful faces of so many who try to repair their errors and mistakes, and who from their misfortune and suffering, fight to transform their situations and move forward," Pope Francis said.

But most of all, he said, "see and contemplate the real face of Christ crucified out of love for everyone, without exception. For everyone? Yes, for everyone. To see his face is an invitation filled with hope for this Lenten time, in order to defeat the demons of distrust, apathy and resignation.

The invitation, he said, is to "return without fear to those outstretched, eager arms of your Father, who is rich in mercy, who awaits you."

"Return without fear to join in the celebration of those who are forgiven," the pope said. "Return without fear to experience the healing and reconciling tenderness of God."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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