May 24, 2024

Pope Francis starts Catholic Church’s “World Youth Day” summit by meeting sexual abuse survivors

Lisbon, Portugal — Pope Francis is in Portugal this week for what’s been called the “Catholic Woodstock” — the church’s “World Youth Day” festival. Hundreds of thousands of young people are taking part, and while the festival is a celebration, the pontiff started his visit by confronting the dark legacy of clergy sexual abuse in Portugal.

Francis wasted no time in addressing the biggest stain on today’s Catholic Church, meeting with sex abuse survivors behind closed doors on the first day of the summit. 

Arriving in Lisbon for the international celebration of faith, the pope quickly addressed the elephant in the room: A report issued earlier this year saying that nearly 5,000 minors had been sexually abused by Portuguese clergy since the 1950s.


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Addressing a group of bishops, Francis blasted them for the “scandals that have marred” the church, and called for “ongoing purification,” demanding that victims be “accepted and listened to.”

It’s a painful topic, and one that most of the young Catholics from around the world didn’t come to Portugal to deal with. For the vast majority of the World Youth Day attendees, the summit is a festival — and Pope Francis is their rockstar.

CBS News met a group of kids from Norwalk, California — members of the St. John of God Parish from the Los Angeles archdiocese. Each of them had to raise $3,500 to get to World Youth Day.


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Some have parents without legal residency documents in the U.S., and all of them have dealt with hardships. 

George and his parents paid his way to Portugal with tacos and tamales. He told CBS News how his family spent many Sundays in the preceding months getting up early to be ready for the post-mass rush at their local church.

“Go to the church and set up, and then sell every time the mass would finish,” he said. “People come out and we would just sell all the food.” 

Francis is one of the world’s most outspoken champions of migrants. Like George and his friends, the leader of the Catholic Church is also Latino.

Pope Francis visits Portugal
Pope Francis and Scholas Occurrentes director Jose Maria del Corral take part in a meeting with young members of Scholas Occurrentes educational foundation, during the pope’s five-day visit to attend the World Youth Day (WYD) gathering of young Catholics, in Cascais, Portugal, August 3, 2023.

MARCO BERTORELLO/Pool/REUTERS


“He realizes that we’re all one people,” said George’s friend Andres. “There’s no real borders in Christ. There’s just — there’s people. There’s love. That’s important, and that’s why I love Pope Francis.” 

World Youth Day is a snapshot of the Church’s future, “whether they are from Latin countries, from Asian countries, from African countries,” the boys’ parish priest, Father Raymond Decipeda, told CBS News. “So, we’re just blessed that this is the face of the church.”

The jubilation from so many young Catholics in Portugal this week will be welcomed by many, as the church continues grappling with its legacy on youth, and how to move forward. 

The Holy See said the pontiff met Wednesday night with 13 abuse survivors for more than an hour at the Vatican’s embassy in Lisbon.

World Youth Day events run through Sunday, and as many as 1 million Catholics were expected to take part.

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