Pope Francis Is Challenged on Sex Abuse Scandal During Trip in Panama

Pope Francis greets pilgrims as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the Santa Maria La Antigua cathedral on the occasion of his visit for World Youth Day, in Panama City, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. Francis turns his attention to the country’s priests and religious sisters as he reaches the midway point in his five-day Central American visit. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Young people challenged Pope Francis on the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal and the plight of Christians in the Middle East as the youth took center stage Saturday in the final events of World Youth Day in Panama.

Organizers said some 600,000 people turned out for Saturday’s main event, an evening vigil service in the Metropark area of east Panama City. Many of them were spending the night in tents or just on sleeping mats to be in place for an early morning final Mass formally ending the religious festival.

After looping through the cheering crowds in his popemobile, Francis told the young he understood their anxieties and fears for a future where jobs are scarce and education not always available.

“It is easy enough to criticize and complain about young people if we are depriving them of the jobs, education and community opportunities they need to take root and to dream of a future,” he told the pilgrims, many of whom clutched rosaries, swayed in prayer and draped themselves in flags from across the Americas and beyond.

The vigil was the culmination of a busy day for Francis that included a luncheon with 10 young pilgrims representing each of the continents. The Vatican described the atmosphere as familiar and festive, and the young people said they were surprised at Francis’ informality and interest in their questions.

Brenda Noriega, a Mexican-born youth minister from San Bernardino, California, said she told Francis that the sex abuse scandal in the United States was a “crisis right now we cannot avoid talking about.” She said Francis called abuse a “horrible crime” and assured her that the church was committed to supporting victims.

She said Francis also stressed the need for prayer, noting that he sent U.S. bishops on a retreat with his own preacher earlier this month ahead of his big summit on abuse prevention in February at the Vatican.

“For me as a youth minister, that means a lot,” Noriega told reporters after the luncheon. “Youth ministers, we have been with people who have been angry but sometimes we forget about prayer. We react too easy and too fast. So I think what His Holiness is telling us and the church is to first pray, build community and not forget about accompaniment.”

It was the first time the abuse scandal has come up publicly during Francis’ four-day visit to Panama. The abuse scandal hasn’t erupted publicly in Central America in the same way it has in the U.S., where the Catholic hierarchy is facing a crisis in confidence over its decades-long failures to protect young people from priests who rape and molest children.

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Source: Religion News Service