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Saturday, 19 April 2008

Pope champions human rights in UN address

AFP, NEW YORK - Pope Benedict XVI turned to diplomacy Friday with a scheduled speech at the United Nations to champion human rights, as the highlight of a US visit marked so far by his unprecedented attention to the pedophile priest scandal.

Early Friday Benedict was to fly from Washington to New York's John F Kennedy Airport, then travel by helicopter to UN headquarters where his speech was scheduled for 11:30 am (1530 GMT).

Benedict also scheduled a ground-breaking papal visit to a New York synagogue later in the day, hours before the start of Passover, in a sign of his commitment to maintaining dialogue with Jewish leaders.

After celebrating Mass with some 48,000 people in Washington Thursday, Benedict held an unprecedented private encounter with five people who said they had been sexually abused by priests, offering them his support after he acknowledged the pain and damage caused by the scandal.

The group prayed together and the pontiff then listened to the stories of the victims, and "offered them words of encouragement and hope," the Vatican said in a statement.

"His Holiness assured them of his prayers for their intentions, for their families and for all victims of sexual abuse," the statement added.

The private meeting with five victims lasted 20 to 25 minutes, officials said.

Benedict also met privately with Jewish leaders in Washington Thursday and urged Jews and Roman Catholics to forge "new attitudes" to foster world peace.
"I wish ... to reiterate the Church's commitment to the dialogue that in the past 40 years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better," the pope said in a message he read to Jewish leaders.

"I ask the Jewish community to accept my Passover greeting in a spirit of openness to the real possibilities of cooperation," the pope said.

Some of the sexual abuse victims told CNN that Benedict had given them hope that the Church would change.

"I said to him, Holy Father, you have a cancer growing in your flock and you need to do something about that, and I hope you understand me and hear me," Bernie McDaid, who was abused at the age of 12, told the network.

"And I touched his heart, and he nodded again. He looked down at the floor and looked back up, and nodded," he said.

Said another victim, Olan Horne: "When you meet somebody and you know that you don't have to convince them that there's a problem, and they intrinsically understand their role in it, you know it.

"And we could see that. We could see it in the eyes, we could see it in the sincerity and there's a phenomenal hope that I came out of that meeting with."
The pope has already apologized several times since the start of his first US papal visit saying he was "deeply ashamed" of the scandal which has rocked the Catholic Church.

A US group for victims of clerical sexual abuse said the meeting was positive but that the pope needed to do much more to reform the Church and prevent further abuse.

"This is a small, long overdue step forward on a very long road," the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement.

The US clergy sex scandal mushroomed into a nationwide embarrassment for the Church after the then archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, resigned in 2002 amid intense pressure due to his handling of abusive priests.

Last year, the US Church paid out 615 million dollars (400 million euros) to settle sex abuse cases, according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse," Benedict told some 48,000 people who gathered for a Mass early Thursday in the new Washington Nationals ballpark celebrated by the pontiff.

Benedict Wednesday met President George W. Bush in the first papal visit to the White House in three decades and urged the US leader to prioritize diplomacy over war as a way of resolving conflicts.

The pontiff largely skirted discussion of the Iraq war, on which the Bush administration and Vatican disagree, but they did discuss the plight of Christians in Iraq.

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