Church abuse victims dissect ’08 meeting

Published 12:06 am Sunday, March 28, 2010

BOSTON (AP) — Two years ago, Bernie McDaid stepped out of a police escort and into a Washington, D.C., chapel for a secret meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and a handful of clergy sex-abuse victims like him.

McDaid left afterward believing Benedict was beginning to understand the scope of his church’s corruption. He doesn’t believe that today.

‘‘Was it a PR move? Looking back at that now, I have to say it was,’’ McDaid said of the meeting. ‘‘Everything they do is not about the children. It’s about the church. It’s always the church first.’’

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Pope Benedict and the Vatican have come under growing criticism as allegations of clergy sex abuse have spread across Europe. Some of the cases have raised questions about whether Pope Benedict did enough to root out pedophile priests under his watch before he became pope.

The renewed scrutiny has McDaid and another abuse victim who attended the 2008 meeting with the pope re-examining its meaning and lasting impact.

Olan Horne, 50, of Westfield, believes Benedict was sincere that day, but that it’s now apparent the pope hasn’t done enough to help victims or reform a church that’s tainted at every level.

‘‘His feet need to be held to the fire more today than it was two years ago, that’s evident in the headlines we’re reading today,’’ Horne said recently. ‘‘If Jesus Christ was alive today and walking this earth, he’d be overturning some tables.’’

The scandal in Europe has accelerated years after the U.S. church was devastated by revelations that church officials shipped pedophile priests from parish to parish while concealing their crimes.

The April 2008 meeting, clandestinely inserted between a Mass and a talk with Catholic educators, was arranged by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley after Pope Benedict declined an invitation to visit Boston.

Horne, like McDaid, was abused by a Boston-area priest. He recalled sensing a heaviness on Pope Benedict as he entered the room and offered the five people before him what Horne viewed as a heartfelt apology.

‘‘We sat almost like we were in a jury box in the pew,’’ Horne said. ‘‘He came out and sat in front of us like he was appealing his sentence.’’

Some victims wept openly. Each had several minutes in private with the pope.

During their conversation, Horne asked the pope for forgiveness for his hatred toward the church. He said he needed to get past the anger to continue his work of making the church accountable for the vast, and still unrecognized, damage it had caused.

‘‘I had an opportunity to look a man in the eye who you could influence by your conversation,’’ Horne said. ‘‘I’m as earnest today as I was then. I would love the opportunity to speak to him again.’’

When McDaid, 54, of Peabody, spoke alone with Benedict, he squeezed the pope’s hand and implored him to do something about the ‘‘cancer’’ in his church.

When days passed and he hadn’t heard much from church officials, McDaid suspected the meeting didn’t mean much.

With Europe now in the grip of scandal, McDaid said the church’s hierarchy must change. He has begun planning a ‘‘Reformation Day’’ this fall at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, where he envisions people gathering en masse to deliver that message.

‘‘I want people to stand up and say, ’Enough is enough,’’’ he said.