Church sex abuse victims call on Pope to take action

Pope Benedict XVI Abuse survivors want to pass their testimonies to the Pope

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Campaigners who say they were sexually abused by Catholic priests as children have demanded "action not words" from the Pope.

They plan to compile messages to the Pope in a book to give to him during his visit to Scotland and England.

The campaigners want a statutory inquiry into clergy sex abuse, pastoral care and funding to support victims.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference said the church in England and Wales has put in place measures to protect children.

Pope Benedict XVI is due to arrive on 16 September for a four-day visit.

Speaking at a conference for sex abuse survivors in Islington, north London, Dr Margaret Kennedy pointed out that the Pope would travel with the "accolade and dignity" given to a head of state.

But she added: "Sadly we are not afforded the same respect or dignity or status.

"Many survivors have to almost live in fear, shame, guilt because when they report they are made to feel like pariahs, disloyal, aggressive, money grabbing, false allegations and so on.

At the scene

In a conference room in north London, the 20 people gathered to share their experiences of abuse at the hands of Catholic priests call themselves "survivors".

But there is a clear feeling that for many the ordeal is far from over.

People talk of lives damaged or destroyed and a lack of respect and care for the victims of abuse.

They believe that Church leaders have been long on talk, but short on action.

A case in point is the book they are putting together of the stories of abuse survivors. They want to hand it to the Pope directly, but have been told that won't happen. For many that smacks of the Church trying to limit discussion and exposure of the issue - after years of covering up the abuse in the first place.

"We don't want words anymore from the Vatican, we want action.

"The actions have not happened - concrete, discernible decisions about who is going to care for survivors of clergy abuse.

"What are they going to do to repair our lives?"

Dr Kennedy, who is the founder of Minister And Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS), said survivors were writing accounts of their own experiences of abuse and messages to the Pope in a book she hoped to present during his visit.

Three attempts to arrange for MACSAS to meet the Pope to hand it over have been rejected.

But Dr Kennedy said campaigners would still attempt to brave the crowds expected for the Pope's public appearances to give the book to him.

A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference said the Catholic Church in the UK had implemented more than 70 recommendations to safeguard children and vulnerable adults.

He added every Diocese now had a safeguarding co-ordinator whose job was to ensure abuse did not happen.

The spokesman added: "The stated priority of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission this year is to meet, listen and work at a national level with those who have suffered abuse to formulate guidance that can work at a local level."

Meanwhile, in a BBC poll of 500 Catholics, 52% said the scale of abuse, and the way it was handled, had "shaken their faith" in the Church leadership.

The poll conducted by ComRes - a member of the British Polling Council - surveyed the random sample of Roman Catholics across the UK between 6 and 9 September 2010.

On this first visit by a pope to the UK since John Paul II in 1982, the pontiff will go to Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham.

MACSAS was set up to support survivors of sexual abuse by clergy from all Christian denominations, whether abused as children or as adults.

This year's conference - called We Speak, You Listen - focused on Catholic survivors, offering the chance for them to relay messages about their "stories, hopes and dreams" to Pope Benedict.

Their testimonies will be compiled into a book, with the title 'The testament we give you, hear us'.

Catholic survivors of clergy abuse who could not attend were asked to send their stories and comments ahead of the conference.

Celibacy 'safe haven'

Peter Saunders was abused by two priests when he was a child and now runs a charity for child abuse survivors, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood.

He told the BBC's Allan Little: "Because abusers pass some of the responsibility to their victims, you're left thinking, 'I can't really say anything because maybe I did something, maybe in some way it was my fault, I deserved it'.

He added that the Catholic Church seemed to have done "a phenomenal job of covering up, moving on abusing priests and denigrating their victims".

The Church has said child abuse is no more prevalent among its clergy than in society in general, but some argue that the celibacy required of the priesthood has played a role.

Start Quote

It's not historic to the victims. It's now”

End Quote Dr Margaret Kennedy MACSAS

Psychologist and Jesuit priest Brendan Callaghan told the BBC the commitment to celibacy appeared to "offer a safe haven for people".

But he added: "Eventually those currents in a person's personality are going to surface. And when they do emerge, it's problematic."

A series of sex abuse scandals have rocked the Catholic Church around the world in recent years, with the Church further accused of maintaining a culture of secrecy.

Pope Benedict's supporters say he has been the most proactive pope yet in confronting abuse.

Earlier this year he apologised to victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland, and later went on to promise "action" over child abuse by priests.

Many campaigners accept that the Catholic Church in England and Wales and in Scotland has done much to acknowledge the problem and to try to eradicate it, said our correspondent.

But some survivors say they still carry the psychological scars and that the Church should do more to fulfil their duty to them.

Further results from the BBC poll will be revealed on BBC News on Sunday morning, and on Radio 4's Sunday programme at 0710 BST.

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