Pope's U.S. Itinerary Angers Some Critics

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Representatives for victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests are threatening protests during Pope Benedict's visit to the United States next week. The critics are particularly angry that he is not visiting Boston, the archdiocese at the center of the scandal.


Ground Zero in lower Manhattan is one of the stops that Pope Benedict XVI will make in the U.S. next week to express sorrow for the victims in 9/11. Some Boston Catholics are angry that the pope is not also visiting their town, because Boston was so critical in the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, many victims say the pope is now adding insult to their injury.

TOVIA SMITH: As one survivor of clergy sexual abuse put it: I'm so angry my therapist would be proud of me. Many Boston Catholics who were abused as children are outraged that on the Pope's first U.S. visit since the scandal, he's not making time to come to Boston where it all first erupted.

Mr. ROBERT COSTELLO (Former Abuse Victim): The man is coward. You know, how un-Christ-like can one man be?

SMITH: Robert Costello says he's still struggling to heal from the abuse he suffered by his priest, who was also his Cub Scout leader. The memories are still as vivid as the photos he has kept from his childhood.

Mr. COSTELLO: This is me here and he had just finished abusing me in the men's room. Everybody else is smiling and everything else like that and I have this just deadpan look.

SMITH: Costello says the Pope owes it to survivors to come to Boston and hear firsthand about their pain.

Mr. COSTELLO: A photograph of him sitting down with a group of survivors - you know what that would do? Would lift the spirit of thousands of people around the world. One photograph - sorry, I'm just getting angry.

SMITH: Costello blames the Pope for not doing more to clean house. For example, punishing bishops who covered up for predator priests. If the Pope won't come to Boston, Costello says, he's going to make sure Boston gets to the Pope.

(Soundbite of clicking)

Mr. COSTELLO: Let's see…

(Soundbite of clicking)

Mr. COSTELLO: David O'Regan(ph), I know him. Alex Christine Higgie(ph)…

(Soundbite of clicking)

SMITH: Costello's been collecting e-mails from hundreds of survivors and he's planning to read their names aloud in New York during the Pope's visit. Another group led by Stephen Shein(ph) has been collecting money to run a newspaper ad. It shows a tearing eye under the headline shame on you.

Mr. COSTELLO: It says you need to know your brothers and sisters wait and hurt in Boston.

SMITH: Vatican officials insist the Pope does understand the suffering caused by clergy abuse and they say he will be addressing the issue specifically in a message of hope and healing. They dismiss suggestions that the Pope is somehow snubbing Boston. They say he's turning 81 and can't do it all. As Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops puts it, many cities invited the Pope to visit and Boston Catholics have no monopoly on pain from clergy sexual abuse.

Sister MARY ANN WALSH (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops): The issue belongs to everybody unfortunately. Nobody can claim that it was only themselves. This is not isolated unfortunately.

SMITH: And while the Pope will spend some time on healing and reconciliation, Vatican officials note the church has already responded to the crisis with reforms in clergy screenings, safety training, and billions of dollars in financial settlements. Now, as Sister Mary Ann Walsh says, the church needs to look forward.

Sister WALSH: We have to deal with it. We have to remember that this could happen again. It's a human problem. We also have to move on.

Ms. JULIE RAFFERTY (Voice of the Faithful): It isn't time to move on until you've fixed the problem, not just sweep it under the rug.

SMITH: Julie Rafferty is with Voice of the Faithful, a group of Catholics pressing for more transparency and lay involvement in the church. She says the Pope's itinerary shows that the systematic problems that underlay the clergy sexual abuse crisis continue to plague the church.

Ms. RAFFERTY: If the only time you were going to encounter the laity is going to be in National's Ballpark and Yankee's Stadium, you're getting an experience of the laity that's a little different than the one I think he should be looking for.

SMITH: Ultimately Rafferty says she'll be watching closely when the Pope is in the U.S., not just to see what he does to help heal survivors wounds, but also to see how much he's done to cure what she says still ails the church.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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