Pope's Meeting with Abused Disturbs Some Victims

NPR/April 18, 2008

As Pope Benedict XVI continues his first visit to the United States as pontiff, he met Thursday with victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Other victims were outraged that the pope would meet with such a small, hand-picked group.

Olan Horn and Bernie McDaid were chosen to attend the meeting with Pope Benedict by the Boston Archdiocese. Both left the Catholic Church a long time ago, but as advocates for survivors and church reforms, they have earned the trust of church officials as voices of moderation.

Forty years ago, Horne and McDaid couldn't get their own local parishes to listen to their stories about clergy sexual abuse. On Thursday, they got to tell Pope Benedict - and got to hear him apologize.

Many other abuse victims - who only learned about the meeting after the fact - were outraged and saw the meeting as little more than a well-orchestrated public relations move by the pope

"If the pope really wants to make a believer out of me, he could start by removing one of the bishops who enabled the abuse, not just by talking to some of the survivors," said Ann Barrett Doyle, co-director of bishopaccountability.org.

On Thursday, a handful of clergy abuse victims met with Pope Benedict XVI in Washington, D.C., and shared their painful stories.

Two of the victims - 52-year-old Bernie McDaid and 48-year-old Olan Horne - say they've been trying to get the church's ear for nearly 40 years.

They first came forward as boys, reporting their abuse by a parish priest. A few years ago an utterly frustrated McDaid made a trip to Rome to try to talk to Pope John Paul II. On Thursday, Pope Benedict finally heard his story.

"It was like something I've been waiting over seven years for," McDaid says. "It was a moment I wasn't ready for."

McDaid recounted his story of suffering - how his life was shattered and devastated by the abuse and how big the problem was - and says the pope thanked him.

Horne says that apology seemed more meaningful than any others he'd heard, calling it a "moment of hope."

A burly and commanding man, Horne is the first to tell you he doesn't quite look the victim, but he went to the meeting with the pope armed with photos. He says he wanted Benedict to see the "innocence lost" and the devastation the clergy abuse has caused him.

"He accepted them graciously," he says.

According to Horne, the pope committed to doing more to staunch the sex abuse scandal, including holding the bishops accountable, but he didn't reveal any specifics. Still, they left the meeting convinced.

"I left there with a promise [to] hold feet to the fire," Horne says.

The men got the invitation from the Vatican through the Boston Archdiocese. They have both left the Catholic Church, but as vocal advocates for abuse survivors, they have gained the trust of Boston church officials as moderate voices for reform.

"We do not come to destroy the church and take it down brick by brick," said Horne. "We are trying to open the windows, and let the sunlight in."

Horne concedes it's optimistic. But even though he's given up religion, he said he still has faith.

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