On eve of pope’s visit, victims of childhood abuse demand Vatican hand over records on priests

By Jill Lawless, AP
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Victims of childhood abuse demand action from pope

LONDON — Victims of childhood abuse by clergy urged the Vatican to give secular authorities all information it holds on misbehaving priests, and said Wednesday that the pope’s visit this week to Britain would cause many survivors pain and distress.

The Catholic Church has apologized for abuses by clergy over several decades, but Peter Saunders of Britain’s National Association for People Abused in Childhood said victims “want action.”

“We’ve had the apologies,” said Saunders, who spoke to journalists alongside other abuse survivors on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival. “We need the pope to say, I will hand over all the information I have about abusing priests wherever they are in the world, no more protection.”

Benedict starts a four-day visit to Scotland and England in Edinburgh on Thursday. Tens of thousands of pilgrims are expected to attend outdoor services in Glasgow and London, but secularists and abuse survivors plan protests.

The pontiff’s visit to largely Protestant Britain is the first since Pope John Paul II came here in 1982. Unlike that trip, Benedict’s is classed as a state visit, with full ceremonial trappings including a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II.

On Wednesday, The Guardian newspaper printed a letter from more than 50 prominent Britons criticizing the official visit. Signatories including physicist Richard Dawkins, comedian Stephen Fry and writers Ken Follett and Philip Pullman said the pope’s positions on birth control, homosexuality, abortion and other issues meant he “should not be given the honor of a state visit to this country.”

Saunders, 53, who says he was abused by two priests as a child in suburban London, said the visit “is going to reawaken and trigger a lot of painful memories for an awful lot of people.”

He said the Vatican should make money available, “no strings attached,” so that victims can have counseling.

The Catholic Church in Britain says it has done more than many other national churches to confront and prevent abuse by clergy. After scandals a decade ago, it implemented the recommendations of a 2001 report that said church officials, including volunteers, should be subject to police checks and any allegations of abuse investigated swiftly.

Church officials in Britain have indicated the pope will meet privately with abuse victims during his visit, as he has on several past foreign trips.

None of the survivors who spoke to journalists Wednesday said they had been asked to meet the pope, or knew anyone who had.

They were divided on whether they would agree to such a meeting.

“Some survivors do want to meet the pope and some want to tell him quite strongly how they feel,” said Margaret Kennedy, 57, from Dublin.

But Sue Cox, a 63-year-old self-described “recovered Catholic” from Gaydon in central England, said she had no desire to speak to the pontiff and does not want an apology.

“What on Earth will that do for the victims of abuse?” she said. “I want him to make amends. Sorry means nothing. What you need to do is make it right.”

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