As Pope Resigns, Clergy Abuse Survivors Remember 2008 Meeting Among those watching the papal transition closely are survivors of clergy sexual abuse, including a handful who were selected to secretly meet with Pope Benedict five years ago. They left the meeting hoping the pope would help the church handle past and current cases. Do they think he did help?
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As Pope Resigns, Clergy Abuse Survivors Remember 2008 Meeting

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As Pope Resigns, Clergy Abuse Survivors Remember 2008 Meeting

As Pope Resigns, Clergy Abuse Survivors Remember 2008 Meeting

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Among those watching the papal transition closely are survivors of clergy sexual abuse. That includes a small group of Americans who were selected to meet with the pope five years ago. NPR's Tovia Smith spoke with two of them, who say they welcome the pope's departure.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: It'd be hard to blame guys like Olan Horne or Bernie McDaid for being cynical. Having survived repeated sexual abuse by their priest, only to find out it also happened to thousands of others and was covered up by the church, it's little wonder they reacted as they did when they heard the pope was resigning.

OLAN HORNE: My mind just immediately went to that there was a scandal ,or something behind it.

SMITH: Since then, Horne has read the all stories swirling around, and heard the news that Britain's most senior Catholic cleric resigned amid allegations of inappropriate behavior with priests. Secrets have a way of coming out, Horne says; not that it brings him any satisfaction.

HORNE: And my intent never was to inflict shame and damage. I've come from shame and damage. I want to work the problem; I don't want to work the Catholic Church.

SMITH: It was that conciliatory bent that earned Horne and McDaid one of just five invitations to represent survivors in a secretly arranged, private meeting with the pope in 2008.

BERNIE MCDAID: This is me and Pope Benedict in Washington, D.C.

SMITH: Bernie McDaid keeps a framed photo of the moment right by his front door.

MCDAID: He stood on a little box so he could be my height, and he grabbed my hands and held tight.

SMITH: You're like, grimacing there.

MCDAID: Yes, it was a tough moment.

SMITH: McDaid told the pope about his pain - physical, emotional and spiritual - and his lifetime of doubts and distress. Horne gave the pope a picture of himself as a young boy, hoping it would remind the pontiff of the children he needs to protect. Benedict offered apologies and prayers, and both McDaid and Horne left feeling like he got it.

HORNE: Right after I met the pope, I kept saying, you know, was I foolish, actually, for putting myself in a position to maybe be taken for a photo opportunity? But I took it as a genuine move, and I know that he sincerely responded.

SMITH: Since that day, however, Horne says he's been disappointed; so much so, he's taken his framed photo of the meeting down from the wall at his house. Horne says he was frustrated there was no follow-up. And even as the issue of child sexual abuse continued to rock the church and other institutions, he says the pope failed to step up and assert the moral authority or be the model he could have.

HORNE: For me, it's been a vacuum. I don't think there was the leadership.

MCDAID: They were trying to move on, and Benedict was at the forefront of trying to move on. And so I say, he failed miserably.

SMITH: Today, Bernie McDaid says he's not sorry to see the pope leave.

MCDAID: You know - one down, many more to go. And that's kind of mean-spirited, but it's coming from the painful side of me.

SMITH: McDaid says it hurts that the church has not removed all the bishops and cardinals who were complicit in the cover-up, including in his case. And he says it's appalling that some of them will help choose the next pope - for example, Cardinal Roger Mahony, who's facing an onslaught of litigation in Los Angeles.

MCDAID: And what's he do? Right after a deposition - he leaves a deposition, and gets on a plane and goes to Rome. Give me a break.

SMITH: The archbishop of Boston, Sean Patrick O'Malley, has also gone to Rome and is one of those mentioned as a possible successor to Benedict, albeit a long shot. O'Malley earned credibility among survivors for how he handled claims early on, and for enacting new policies to prevent abuse. McDaid says picking O'Malley would be a sign that the church understands the ongoing depth and breadth of the issue.

MCDAID: He saw it firsthand. That's all I've got to go on. That doesn't mean I'm delighted, but he's the best they've got.

SMITH: For his part, however, Horne says he doesn't think it matters at all who becomes pope.

HORNE: I mean, my belief and hope has never come from what the Vatican's going to do. As I said, it won't be the Catholic Church that fixes this problem.

SMITH: Rather, Horne says, survivors and their supporters will drive change, regardless of whether the next pope presses the issue more forcefully.

HORNE: And if it is done, great. If it isn't, well, we just have more work to do in the streets, from the bottom up. And it says it, even, in the Bible; that if you have an issue with a man, take it up with him directly.

SMITH: Five years after his extraordinary meeting with Pope Benedict, Horne doesn't know if he'll ever have such an audience again. But he says he does have a date with Cardinal O'Malley, set for April; and intends to keep it whether O'Malley is wearing red shoes in Rome, or his brown frock back in Boston. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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