Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly characterized the comments of Colleen Dolan, spokeswoman for Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, related to how Catholic Church officials might respond to Pope Benedict's attention to clergy sex abuse. She did not cite any specific policies that might go unchanged nor did she imply that they should be changed. This version has been corrected.

Verdict Out On Impact Of Outreach To Victims

Barbara Blaine, a clergy victim of the Catholic Church and founder of S.N.A.P., speaks about being sexually abused by her priest, coming out with her secret, the Church's neglect of the problem, and her faith today with On Faith's Sally Quinn. Video by Anna Uhls/
By Jacqueline L. Salmon and Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bernie McDaid says he is changed, not healed.

After praying privately with Pope Benedict XVI, after telling the pontiff that there is "a cancer" in the Roman Catholic Church, after giving the 81-year-old German theologian a loaf of Irish soda bread baked by McDaid's 81-year-old mother, he now thinks the Church will more aggressively fight sexual abuse by priests.

"When the pope apologized and clearly said he was sorry for the pain this has caused, it marked a changing point in this whole process, and it emotionally did something for me," McDaid said yesterday, a day after he and four other clergy sex abuse victims from the Boston area met with Benedict at the Vatican Embassy in Northwest Washington.

"I believe it's the beginning, and not just for me," McDaid, 52, of Peabody, Mass., said shortly before flying home. "Things are really going to happen now."

Olan Horne, a Lowell, Mass., abuse victim who participated in the meeting, was similarly affected. "For the first time, the pontiff put the responsibility of the Church and the suffering and the needs of the survivors first," said Horne, 48, who added that the pope was in tears when they met.

Even more than the pope's repeated references to the sex abuse scandal during his visit to Washington this week, his meeting with McDaid, Horne and the others packed a wallop, according to bishops, lay Catholic groups and sex abuse victims. It could be a turning point for an American church whose leaders, many say, have moved haltingly to institute reforms from the scandal.

"When the pope gives this much attention to it . . . that communicates to the bishops that 'you'd better get on this and make this a priority, and I'm going to pay attention,' " said Robert Bennett, a D.C. lawyer who served on a lay panel created by U.S. bishops to monitor reform efforts. He met with Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in 2004 to discuss the scandal.

Still, Catholics around the country questioned whether McDaid and Horne were right: Would the pope's repeated professions of shame and anguish this week, culminating in the first publicly known meeting between a pope and sex abuse victims, be more than an emotional balm? Would it also lead to new steps to address the biggest crisis in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States?

"We want to see concrete action," said Donna Doucette, executive director of Voice of the Faithful, a lay organization pushing for greater transparency and lay involvement in the management of the Church.

Asked if the pope's emphasis on clergy sex abuse this week would likely lead to any specific changes in how the church handles the subject, Colleen Dolan, spokeswoman for Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the USCCB, said she didn't see reason to assume that. She viewed the pope's comments as an affirmation of current policies.

"I don't think that the ramifications will be any different than they already are," said Dolan. "The U.S. church has already put in many safeguards."

By the U.S. bishops' count, more than 5,000 priests have been credibly accused of abusing about 12,000 children in the United States since 1950. The Church has spent $2 billion on legal claims, six dioceses have declared bankruptcy and hundreds of priests have been removed.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company