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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, in a dramatic surprise, held an emotional and tearful meeting on Thursday with victims of sexual abuse by priests, consoling them and promising them his prayers.
The 25-minute meeting, believed to be the first time a pope has met with victims of sexual abuse by the clergy, took place in the chapel of the Vatican's embassy and was kept secret until after it was over.
The encounter dramatically capped three days of comments the pope has made expressing shame about the scandal that has rocked the U.S. Church.
"They prayed with the Holy Father, who afterward listened to their personal accounts and offered them words of encouragement and hope," a Vatican statement said. "His holiness assured them of his prayers for their intentions, for their families and for all victims of sexual abuse."
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, the city where the scandal first broke in 2002, accompanied the group, which a Vatican source said was made up of about a half a dozen middle-aged men and women.
Chief Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said there was a lot of emotion in the room and some of the victims cried. Each victim then chatted personally with the pope.
Benedict spoke "affectionate words" to the group and Cardinal O'Malley gave the pope a notebook with the names of about 1,000 sexual abuse victims in the Boston archdiocese, so that the pope could pray for all of them, Lombardi said.
O'Malley replaced Boston's former archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in December 2002 over the scandal. Continued...
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