.- In the first ever meeting of its kind, the Holy Father told U.K. child safeguarding workers that they are an important part of the Church's response to the problem of child sex abuse. The national chair of the protection commission said the Pope made it "very clear" that the Church needs to work to better protect children and support victims.
On Saturday, after a morning meeting with five victims of clerical sex abuse at the nunciature, the Holy Father later met for the first time ever with a delegation of child safeguarding professionals. At St. Peter's home for the elderly in London, he held an audience with Bill Killgallon, Chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission in England and Wales and seven colleagues representing parish, diocesan and national levels of the organization.
According to a statement released by the Holy See, Pope Benedict told them: "It is deplorable that, in such marked contrast to the Church’s long tradition of care for them, children have suffered abuse and mistreatment at the hands of some priests and religious. We have all become much more aware of the need to safeguard children, and you are an important part of the Church’s broad-ranging response to the problem."
During a Sunday briefing with media, Mr. Killgallon recounted that the Pope was "interested" in the fact that all dioceses and religious orders in England and Wales subscribe to a single set of policies. The chair described his further interest to know that there is a representative in every parish, professional staff and a commission in every diocese and a national commission formed of a majority of lay people along with Church representatives.
The commission, founded two years ago from a framework put in place in 2001, sets the policies that are enforced in the dioceses and religious orders and monitors their implementation.
In this model, said Killgallon, the Pope was "particularly positive" about the fact that the commission immediately involves statutory authorities, that is, police and social services, anytime there is an allegation in the Church. He was also "impressed" at the independence of the system which lends to prevention and immediate investigation if cases arise.
Reflecting on the Pope's strong words concerning minor sex abuse on several occasions during the first three days of the visit, Killgallon said he "made it very clear that the Church should respond better and the particular challenge that he gave to the Church in this visit was to respond better to the victims of abuse and to give better support."
While no organization in the world can exclude the possibility that abuse might happen, he added, "(e)very organization, the Church included, should be determined to have the strongest possible checks in place and the strongest possible procedures against abuse when it occurs."
Killgallon said the Pope made it "very clear" that he supported them in their work.
Later on Sunday, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told reporters that a specific meeting for safeguarders is "a step forward" for approaching the problem. "It's a message," he said, "a positive message that can be done to encourage the engagement to avoid these crimes, to renew the engagement of the church in a very positive way."
The Pope, he concluded, "encouraged and appreciated" the direction the Church is taking in the United Kingdom.
Later, in speaking to all of the U.K.'s bishops, Pope Benedict said that the "shameful abuse" of young people "seriously undermines the credibility of the Church," applauded them on the "serious steps" they have taken to confront the problem and invited them to share their knowledge with the rest of society.