BOSTON (CBS) – On the eve of an unprecedented conference including Vatican officials and victims of clergy sexual abuse around the world, a group of bishops met with survivors in Rome Wednesday morning. And while some were angry that Pope Francis himself did not attend, their anger was heightened by remarks the Pontiff made afterwards.

“This is a historic moment,” one survivor said hopefully ahead of the meeting with the bishops, where the victims planned to press their demands for transparency about past clergy abuses and zero tolerance going forward. “This has taken decades, this has taken centuries to happen.”

And when Phil Saviano of, a familiar figure in the uncovering of the Boston clergy sex scandal, emerged from the session, he was optimistic. “I presented a letter to Archbishop Scicluna about how he could make transparency be effective, and much to my delight, he was very, very receptive to my message,” he said.

But for Shaun Dougherty, a Pennsylvania survivor of clergy abuse, the failure of the Pope to attend the meeting was a disturbing signal. “This is the CEO of the Roman Catholic Church,” he said. “We came to his house to meet with him about his abusive priests. And he wasn’t there. He delegated.”

Pope Francis delivers his salute to worshipers at the start of the weekly general audience on February 20, 2019 (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO/AFP)

Confidence in the Pope’s handling of clergy sex abuses has slumped in recent polls, despite outreach like this 2,000 word apology to victims last summer.

But his remarks Wednesday after his bishops met with survivors struck a different tone.

POPE: “Who is the accuser? Who in the Bible is called the Great Accuser? Who?”

CROWD: “The devil!”

POPE: “I do not understand”

CROWD: “The devil!”

POPE: “I cannot hear you”

CROWD: “The devil!”

POPE: “The devil! And those who spend their lives accusing, accusing, accusing are not the devil’s children because the devil has no children, but they are friends, cousins and relatives of the devil and this is wrong.”

It was an inauspicious beginning to a multi-day conference designed to begin rebuilding trust in the church. And you wonder what the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, is thinking right now. This conference was his idea, but he was reportedly cut out of the organizing process last fall after clashing with the Pope over the church’s response to the scandal.

Jon Keller

  1. Theodore Oule says:

    Ah…Preparing the “It’s all the devil’s fault excuse.”

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