Pope Francis on Wednesday met briefly with a group of abuse victims who undertook a bicycle pilgrimage from Germany to Rome this month to ask the pope to do everything in his power to heal and prevent abuses in the Catholic Church.
The group, from the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, also delivered a letter to the Holy Father following his weekly general audience and presented him a gift: a sculpture of a heart by artist Michael Pendry.
“The work does not show a usual, romantic heart,” the group explained in its letter to the pope. “The heart has many open parts, allows introspection, it is angular and wounded. We as people who have been abused can easily find ourselves in this depiction. It is also so in our inner selves, in the center of our being, in the center of our heart!”
In all, 15 abuse victims arrived in Rome this week after setting off on bicycles on May 6 from Munich, the capital of Bavaria in southern Germany.
The bicyclists made several stops along their journey to Rome, including in Bolzano, in northern Italy, on May 8, where they were greeted by Bishop Ivo Muser of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, and by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising.
The authors of the letter said they were all, as children or young people, the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests or male or female religious.
“The message of the Gospel has been perverted by the perpetrators of the crimes. The victims still suffer the consequences today and their lives are still affected and limited in different ways and intensities,” the victims said.
“What they have in common is the wounded heart, the great wound of life that hurts day after day,” they added, noting that every time there is a new report of abuse in the Church, or of cover-up and failure by her leaders, “scars reopen and wounds begin to bleed again.”
The letter said there are victims of abuse who cannot and do not want to leave the Church and their faith, “who continue to hope and expect that those in charge of the Catholic Church will consistently and decisively address the abuses of the past and do everything to ensure that the Church is a safe place for children and young people, where they can experience the beauty and liberation of the message of Jesus Christ.”
They quoted Psalm 147:3, which says the Lord is “healing the brokenhearted, and binding up their wounds.”
“This expresses the deepest desire of many victims of sexualized violence in the church context: the healing of the great wound of life!”
They wrote in their letter that while the first steps toward the prevention of abuse have been taken, they still see the need for “a strong and clear commitment” from the hierarchy in the Roman Curia and in all the dioceses of the Church.
They also asked that a clear signal be sent to perpetrators of abuse and the bishops who have not fulfilled their responsibilities in this area.
“If today we approach you, Holy Father — and thus the Church — they come to you women and men who have been wounded, humiliated, and scarred all their lives. But at the same time, women and men who are not resigned to what has happened. People with their heads held high, upright and with a strong will to live and survive. We want to meet you by looking into your eyes.”