Pope to meet Irish abuse survivors in private

Father Federico Lombardi

Father Federico Lombardi

Pope Benedict XVI promised to meet abuse survivors in his letter to Irish Catholics - but the meeting will be a private affair,  Vatican press officer Father Federico Lombardi, said  on Saturday. The meeting would be like the ones he has had with victims in the United States and in Australia, "in an atmosphere of prayer without a public announcement ahead of time."

"These are not media events. They are human and spiritual encounters. While they are significant, you should not expect them to be announced and propagandized," Father Lombardi  said.

He added that Pope Benedict's words make it clear that he understands their hurt and how hard it could be for them to trust church leaders. He said the Pope is not acting as "a teacher trying to impose a lesson," but is asking for a chance to apologize on behalf of the church and help promote healing.

Fr Lombardi explained that the Pope did not use the Irish letter to discuss the subject of clerical sexual abuse elsewhere. He said Pope Benedict wanted to speak directly to Irish Catholics as they deal with a series of cases that have been the object of two separate independent inquiries and very public reflection by the bishops' conference as a whole.

"Obviously, the way the Pope addresses the victims, the guilty or the bishops" in the Irish letter is applicable beyond Ireland, Father Lombardi said. But this letter was meant to be pastoral and specific.  An attempt to address the global situation risked making the document "generic, banal or 250-pages long," he said.

Father Lombardi said more precise details of the 'visitations' promised in the letter would be announced in future.

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