Silence must be broken if abuse is to be eradicated, pope tells victims

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Everyone must work together to end the silence surrounding abuse if it is to be eradicated from the church and communities, Pope Francis told adult survivors of abuse as children.

"The subversion of a child's rights through violence and abuse is a betrayal of our God-given humanity," he said in a letter to the group he met with at the Vatican.

Despite feeling unwell with the flu and canceling several appointments during the week, Pope Francis welcomed the group of 26 men and women survivors at his residence Nov. 28, according to Vatican News. They had been abused when they were young children by members of the Congregation of the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel, which ran schools in western France. Representatives of the congregation and of the Commission for Recognition and Reparation accompanied the group from the Diocese of Nantes.

The group had first met for two hours with members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, during which they received a letter from Pope Francis, who had apologized for not being able to speak to them in person "as we had hoped."

The pope said he had asked that his words be conveyed to them by the staff of the papal commission, which he established "for you and for the many vulnerable children and persons who, like you, experience the greatest evil in a place where you -- together with your families -- sought what is true and good."

"I have asked the commission to hear your words on my behalf and to gather your testimonies so that they may strengthen and inspire our common efforts to eradicate abuse from our church and our communities," the pope wrote.

"We can only do this together, all of us doing our part to break the silence of abuse," he wrote.

The pope recognized their journey of healing together with the Monfort Brothers and said it shows that "this silence can be broken if there is an active and respectful openness within the institution itself to listen to what victims and survivors have to say."

"This is not always easy, and I congratulate all of you for this achievement of walking and learning together in honest dialogue," he added.

The pope renewed his support for "the non-negotiable commitment by local churches to the implementation and verification of safeguarding policies and professional standards in the human formation of our clergy and religious, as well as to seeking safe environments in our schools."

He thanked them for their "courage and resilience" and assured them that "you are heard."