Pope 'shaken' by talks with sex abuse victims

24th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI was due to greet the faithful in the eastern city of Erfurt Saturday, a day after reaching out to victims of clerical abuse and members of the Protestant faith.

On the third day of a tour of his native Germany, Benedict will greet worshippers in the main cathedral square of Erfurt.

Later Saturday, he will hold a prayer vigil in staunchly Catholic Freiburg in the southwest.

But during his 30-minute meeting Friday with victims of sexual abuse by priests, the pope had said he was "moved and deeply shaken by the sufferings of the victims," the Vatican said.

Church officials described the encounter as "very, very emotional".

"The Holy Father expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families," said a Vatican statement.

The meeting had been keenly awaited during the 84-year-old pontiff's visit to Germany, which has been rocked by revelations of widespread abuse over the last several decades.

"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," the statement said.

Hans Langendoerfer, the coordinator of the visit, told AFP the pope met five victims of abuse, three men and two women.

Over the past year, large-scale paedophilia scandals have rocked the Catholic church in a number of countries, including Ireland, Austria, Belgium and the United States.

The pope has already met victims of abuse during visits to Britain, Malta, the United States and Australia.

Earlier Friday, the pope held joint prayers with members of the Protestant faith in Germany, in a bid to build bridges between the two churches.

Benedict said the different wings of the Church should keep in mind what they had in common, amid the pressure towards secular values.

"But the more the world withdraws from God, the clearer it becomes that man, in his hubris of power, in his emptiness of heart and in his longing for satisfaction and happiness, increasingly loses his life," he said.

"Man was created to have a relationship with God; we need him.

"Our primary ecumenical service at this hour must be to bear common witness to the presence of the living God and in this way to give the world the answer which it needs."

The service was also attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Lutheran.

But some observers were disappointed, saying it had failed to match his conciliatory message with concrete action to heal the 500-year-old rift between the Churches.

The head of the Lutheran Church, Nikolaus Schneider, said he had conveyed the message to the pontiff that his flock was not satisfied with current relations with the Vatican.

"Our hearts are burning for more and that could be sensed today," he said.

Late Friday, the pope celebrated a sunset mass before 90,000 believers in a tiny village in former communist East Germany.

Christians in Germany are evenly divided between Catholics and Lutherans, with a growing trend toward secularisation sparking crises in both churches.

© 2011 AFP

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