The Pope’s visit, covered in minute-by-minute detail by the nation’s media, is drawing to its close. Today is the final day, and the pontiff is in Birmingham, conducting the beatification of Cardinal Newman in front of a crowd of thousands in Cofton Park.
However, it was his statements yesterday on the child abuse cases within the Catholic Church at a Mass in Westminster Cathedral that attracted the closest attention:
Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives.
To those representing abuse victims, the carefully shaped rhetoric was hardly sufficient. As Peter Isely, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said: “We don’t need a Pope who is sad about crimes. We need a Pope who will prevent crimes. And his words prevent nothing.”
But what carefully chosen words they are. “Sorrow”, as Isely points out, implies sadness, possibly regret, but it does not constitute an apology, let alone an acknowledgement of wider responsibility or failure within the Church.
Notably absent, also, was a sense of action being taken to prevent further abuses. Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, and a victim of abuse himself, called on the Pope to provide funding to abuse survivors and open up access to Vatican files.
Later in the day, it emerged that the Pope had met five British victims of sexual abuse, and had told them the Church was working “to bring to justice clergy and religious [people] accused of these egregious crimes” as well as striving to “implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people”.
This will no doubt be welcome to those campaigning for greater protection of young people in the Church, and support for those who have been victim to abuse. But a true public apology, and an acknowledgement of deep failings within the system, still feel noticeably missing from this papal visit.