By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
According to a Vatican statement released early Monday morning in Australia, Pope Benedict XVI has met with four victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, listening to their stories and celebrating Mass for them.
The meeting came at the end of Benedict's July 12-21 visit to Sydney, Australia, for World Youth Day. On Saturday, the pope delivered a public apology for the sex abuse crisis, saying he was "deeply sorry" and that he shared the suffering of the victims.
The meeting in Sydney marks the second time Benedict XVI has encountered sex abuse victims, following a similar session during his mid-April visit to the United States. As in that instance, neither the Vatican nor the Australian victims issued any notice of the meeting.
The brief Vatican statement said the encounter took place in the chapel of Cathedral House, the residence of Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, where Benedict XVI resided during much of his trip. The four victims, two men and two women, were accompanied by a small group of supporters and an Australian priest charged with pastoral outreach to sex abuse victims.
Benedict's Mass for the victims was concelebrated by Pell and Archbishop Fernando Filoni, the substitute, or number two official, in the Vatican's Secretariat of State.
At the end of the Mass, the pope met with each of the victims individually. All told, the pope spent roughly an hour with the victims. The Vatican indicated that Benedict wanted to hold the meeting after World Youth Day ended, since the youth gathering was the primary motive for his visit to Australia.