It now appears that Pope Benedict will meet with Irish victims of clerical sex abuse but he will not do it in public, says a Vatican spokesman.

The media reaction to the pope's pastoral letter has been universally negative, leading to speculation that the meeting with victims will take place sooner rather than later.

The Vatican has stressed that it would not turn such a meeting into a media event.

"The pope has had meetings with victims in the United States and in Australia, and a potential meeting with Irish victims would "occur quietly and in an atmosphere of prayer without a public announcement ahead of time”, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

"For the pope, these are not media events. They are human and spiritual encounters. While they are significant, you should not expect them to be announced and propagandized," Father Lombardi told reporters during a press briefing on March 20.

"Obviously, the way the pope addresses the victims, the guilty or the bishops" in the Irish letter is applicable beyond Ireland, Father Lombardi said. But this letter was meant to be pastoral and specific, and an attempt to address the global situation risked making the document "generic, banal or 250-pages long," he said.

The Vatican has a web page with the full letter and other speeches by the Pontiff and content relating to sex abuse.

Directly addressing victims in his letter, Pope Benedict wrote, "I humbly ask you to consider what I have said."

Father Lombardi said the pope's words make it clear that he understands their hurt and how hard it could be for them to trust church leaders. He said the pope is not acting as "a teacher trying to impose a lesson," but is asking for a chance to apologize on behalf of the church and help promote healing.


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