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Pope’s message forward-looking, Skylstad says

FRIDAY, APRIL 18, 2008

By bringing attention to the issue of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church for a third time on his U.S. visit, Pope Benedict XVI has “indicated that this is a tragedy that can never happen again,” the bishop of the Spokane Diocese said on Thursday.

“He also prefaced that by saying that we really need to be compassionate to the victims,” Bishop William Skylstad said.

But Skylstad, whose diocese has been embroiled in a civil action by local survivors of abuse by priests for the past six years, would not acknowledge that the pope was critical of church officials’ handling of the issue.

Rather, he said, it was Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who during his introduction of the pope Wednesday night commented on “mistakes in the past” and how they were handled.

“It is how we handle it from here on that’s really important,” Skylstad said, citing practices put into place as a result of the abuse scandal in how priests are trained, screened and educated.

Skylstad also noted that Benedict commented that “we have to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the larger society as well.”

The pope’s attention to a scandal that has cost the church in America more than $1 billion in legal settlements, including a $48 million settlement in Spokane, was met with mixed reactions by local victims of sexual abuse by priests.

“He has not paid a lot of attention until the last couple of days,” said Michael Ross, a co-founder of the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Ross said it was hypocrisy for the pope to blame U.S. bishops for executing the Vatican’s policy, a policy that has resulted in victims still not receiving full compensation.

“They fought us through four years of litigation and two and a half years of bankruptcy,” Ross said. “That doesn’t show compassion to us.”

But another Spokane survivor of abuse by a priest saw hope in the pope’s meeting Thursday with a group of victims in the chapel of the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C.

“If he will sit and talk to survivors,” Mike Shea said, “I’ll trust him. It’s a fabulous first step.”

Skylstad, who as vice president and president of the Bishops Conference became acquainted with Benedict even before he became pope, also said that the pope’s concern for U.S. immigration issues is consistent with his calls for “respect for the dignity of the human person.”



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