By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY — A group of survivors of abuse by priests and religious cycled hundreds of miles from southern Germany to Rome to urge the pope “to do everything in your power” to make the Catholic Church a safe space and to send “a clear signal” to perpetrators and bishops who avoid action.
“The victims of abuse and violence in the Archdiocese of Munich turn to you, Holy Father, with open and at the same time wounded hearts,” the group said in a letter hand delivered to the pope at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square May 17.
“The first steps have been taken, but from our perspective a strong and clear commitment is still needed from all responsible persons within the Curia and in the dioceses of the universal church,” the letter said. “In addition, a clear signal must be sent to perpetrators and bishops who have not fulfilled their responsibilities and who, to a certain extent, still do not do so today.”
In addition to the two-page letter, the group also gave the pope a small heart-shaped sculpture by Munich artist Michael Pendry. “The work does not show the usual, romantic heart,” the group said in its letter.
Instead, the grid-like frame structure of the heart shows “many open parts” and is “hard-edged and wounded. We as people who have been abused can easily see ourselves in this representation,” it said. Affixed on a chunk of dark granite, the sculpture also included an engraved verse from Psalms 147:3 which speaks of the Lord “healing the brokenhearted.”
Eight men and one woman completed the journey by bicycle, leaving Munich May 6 with a send-off ceremony attended by the city’s mayor and church officials, and arriving in Rome May 16.
The 450-mile pilgrimage was called, “We are setting out! Church, are you with us?” and it was supported by the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. It was organized by Dietmar Achleitner, Richard Kick and Kilian Semel, who are members of the Advisory Council for Abuse Victims and Survivors in the archdiocese, and Robert Köhler of “We Know About It,” a safeguarding advocacy group focusing on religious orders.
The cyclists’ average age was 65, the oldest being Achleitner, who recently turned 80. They wanted to make the journey by bicycle to show strength, hope and healing, and to encourage others to “get up” and reach out for support, Kick said in an interview with DomRadio.de May 6.
“The group’s expectations and hopes were fulfilled, the meeting with the pope was very moving,” Semel said in a press release published on the Munich archdiocesan website May 17. Köhler said Pope Francis was “very responsive to us.”
In a video of the encounter, a woman asked the pope in Italian, “What are you doing for victims of abuse?” to which he responded it was his “priority.”
On May 18 about 15 victims of abuse and companions were to speak about abuse and prevention at a meeting with Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, director of the Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.