THE Pope has left the door open for a face-to-face meeting with Australian victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy, with victims' groups calling on him to follow up Saturday's apology with concrete action to reform the church's complaint handling procedures.
The pontiff's spokesman, Padre Federico Lombardi, said yesterday he would not rule out a private meeting between the Pope and sex abuse victims or their families despite the Pope's departure this morning. He pledged to provide details of any meeting, but said: "The last word will only occur when the plane leaves, when the door closes."
Senior Vatican press members were told informally early yesterday an unscheduled, informal meeting with representatives of sex abuse victims in Sydney might be on the cards.
But the Melbourne couple Anthony and Christine Foster, who returned from Scotland last week to seek a meeting with the Pope, said they had not been contacted by church officials. The Fosters say the church's handling of their daughter Emma's case contributed to her suicide in January, 20 years after she was raped at primary school by a Catholic priest.
The church would not commit to reforms yesterday, but the issue will be on the agenda at a national committee meeting of the church's Towards Healing program next week. Sister Angela Ryan, the program's national director, said: "Nobody would listen to an apology like that and not act, and examine, and that's what we will be doing. But I can't say what changes there will be."
The Fosters and the Broken Rites victims' support group delivered a letter to the church yesterday in which they offered to support the church's process if it agreed to a list of reforms.
These included: that future commissioners be appointed by the Law Institute of Victoria, not the church; that there be no limits on compensation or time for the filing of an application; that the church nominate an appropriate legal entity for civil claimants to sue; that two panel members be from victims' support groups; and that prior claimants can have their claims reassessed.
Mark Sabbro, of the Child Sex Abuse Survivors' Collective, said he wanted the Pope to send an apostolic envoy from the Vatican to direct Australian bishops on how to improve their processes, as he did in the case of the US.
He will seek a meeting this week with the World Youth Day co-ordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher to suggest some constructive ideas for reconciliation, including a memorial to victims who have died.
"We are quite ready to help make the changes that will aid reconciliation," he said. "We also would like a written apology to each of us from the Vatican, and we want some form of independent inquiry outside of the church to review the church's procedures because they are unaccountable and not transparent."
Peter Gogarty, another victim, said the job was half done and called for Towards Healing to be made independent of the church and for clergy to be better educated about pedophilia and the effects of sexual abuse.
The Pope apologised for the "evils" of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Australia during his homily at a Mass at St Mary's Cathedral on Saturday.
He acknowledged "the shame which we have all felt" and said that, as their pastor, he shared the victims' suffering. But he said the Australian church continued "to address effectively this serious pastoral challenge".
The Pope's apology was reported around the world and led to similar reactions from international victims' groups.
Ireland's One-in-Four support group welcomed the apology but warned previous words had not been matched by action by the church's hierarchy. How the pontiff said sorry HERE I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country.
Indeed, I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured
and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering.
These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. They have caused great pain and have damaged the church's witness.
I ask all of you to support and assist your bishops, and to work together with them in combating this evil.
Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice. It is an urgent priority to promote a safer and more wholesome environment, especially for young people.
In these days marked by the celebration of World Youth Day, we are reminded of how precious a treasure has been entrusted to us in our young people, and how great a part of the church's mission in this country has been dedicated to their education and care.
As the church in Australia continues, in the spirit of the gospel, to address effectively this serious pastoral challenge, I join you in praying that this time of purification will bring about healing, reconciliation and ever greater fidelity to the moral demands of the gospel.