ROME – Italian victims of pedophile priests demanded to meet Pope Benedict XVI in an open letter published Saturday, accusing papal officials of blocking them.
“We have gone through all the official channels possible in order to meet you, but have been given nothing but evasive replies,” the letter from various associations of child abuse victims said.
“We are forced, alas, to admit the extent to which the victims of pedophile criminals are treated with disdain, as if they have the plague.”
The letter noted that the pope had met people abused by priests when young in Australia, Britain, Malta, the United States and most recently in his native Germany, but not in Italy.
“We cannot speak to you face to face to express our grief and frustration in the face of so many words and so few acts,” it added. “We ask you for an audience in the hope of being listened to, to understand the real meaning of your words when you express your sadness and shame.”
The letter asked for a meeting with the pope on Tuesday, the day after the head of one of the associations that signed the letter, Francesco Zanardi, is due to arrive at the Vatican at the end of a protest walk across Italy begun last month.
His group, L’Abuso, claims to have uncovered 130 cases of assault by pedophile priests in Italy since 2000.
At his last meeting with abuse victims, in Germany on September 23, the pope “expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families”, according to the Vatican.
“He assured the people present that those in positions of responsibility in the Church are seriously concerned to deal with all crimes of abuse and are committed to the promotion of effective measures for the protection of children and young people.
“Pope Benedict XVI is close to the victims and he expresses the hope that the merciful God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind, may heal the wounds of the victims and grant them inner peace.”
Over the past year large-scale pedophilia scandals have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Ireland, Austria, Belgium, the United States and Germany.
Long accused of a systematic cover-up, the Vatican says it has adopted a zero-tolerance policy, and that victims should be heard and helped, while the guilty are punished in the courts.
However many associations feel that its measures, including the brief meetings between the pope and abuse victims, are not enough.