Advocates for victims of sexually abusive priests expressed disappointment Sunday following Pope John Paul II’s address to an audience of 800,000 people at World Youth Day in Toronto. During the three-hour-long Mass, the pope alluded to the sex scandal plaguing the church, admitting that “the harm doneÉ to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame.” However, he stopped short of issuing an apology. Instead, he urged the audience to “think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests” and “be close to them and support them.” Meanwhile, his support for victims apparently holds a lower priority – last week, the pope rejected a request to meet with survivors of sexual abuse by priests during his stop in Canada.
Canadian director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) David Gagnon said that the pope opted for damage control over accountability to the victims. “He chose to minimize the crisis and affirm the priesthood, which to survivors is a very disturbing thing,” Gagnon told the Associated Press. Still, spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, argued that World Youth Day was not the appropriate forum: “[The pope is] speaking to the young people and I don’t imagine many, if any, of these young people had been directly affected by sexual abuse.”
A total of 218 priests have resigned or been removed from their positions since the scandal began this year, according to a survey conducted by the Washington Post. The survey also found that at least 850 US priests have been accused of sexual misconduct with minors since the early 1960s, and that more than 350 of them were removed from ministry before this year. More recently, allegations of priest sexual abuse have also surfaced in Germany, Ireland, and Poland.