(dpa) - Pope Benedict XVI made history Thursday by meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests, but even that gesture did not go far enough in preventing such future crimes, paedophilia survivors said.
The meeting followed three straight days of remarks and speeches by the pope, who expressed shame over the scandal, compassion for the pain in the US church and hope that US Catholics can find a healing spirit.
During the 25-minute meeting with five victims from the Boston area who had been abused as children, Benedict "listened to their accounts," prayed and offered them encouragement, Vatican officials said.
Some of them wept.
For David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the gestures fall short of what is needed.
"The simple truth is that no child is better protected tomorrow because of a 25-minute meeting today," he told Deutsche Presse- Agentur by telephone. "Talk can bring change, or talk can bring complacency. Complacency protects no one."
The meeting came on the third day of Benedict's six-day tour, the first visit to the US by a pope since revelations about abuse in the Americas reached a crescendo in 2002.
Although the Vatican did not give details of who met with the pope, The Boston Globe and National Catholic Reporter newspapers said that the audience was granted to abuse victims from the Boston area - seen as the US epicentre of revelations that have increasingly plagued the worldwide church since the 1990s.
SNAP and other victim groups want the pope to censure and discipline the two-thirds of US bishops who allegedly participated in decades of "shuffling pederasts" to new parishes, one step ahead of angry parents, as the Dallas Morning News put it in an editorial on Thursday.
To date, no bishop has been disciplined or otherwise singled out by the Vatican for being accessories to the crimes against children, SNAP says.
"We're interested in prevention, not punishment. We want complicit bishops disciplined for one simple reason - to deter future recklessness and secrecy and callousness," said Clohessy earlier Thursday in an interview.
Clohessy, now 51, and his brother, Kevin, were both victims of clerical abuse as children. David Clohessy filed one of the earliest US abuse lawsuits against a Missouri priest in 1991, while his brother went into the priesthood and became an accused abuser himself.
For critics, molestation - which as Benedict pointed out to bishops Wednesday night can occur in all walks of life, within the family as well as the church - is only part of the story.
The real issue is how the Vatican and bishops have failed to act despite evidence from children, parents or other priests that abuse has occurred.
"The issue has been, when a child or a parent reports abuse, what is the response?" Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a psychologist who has worked with US bishops on the issue, said in the Washington Post.
Clohessy had hoped that Benedict would "in some way publicly chastise or sanction or suspend or defrock bishops who either suspected abuse and kept silent or knew of abuse and concealed it."
"The pope has been given the reins of a vast, wealthy, powerful global monarchy. He must use those reins to safeguard the vulnerable," said another SNAP leader, Joelle Casteix of Newport Beach, California, in a statement released after the meeting with victims.
SNAP frequently refers to former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law as an example of inaction. Law was forced to step down in late 2002 after the scandal plunged his Boston diocese into financial ruin, following legal settlements with hundreds of sexual-abuse victims.
Law apologized to those who "suffered" from his "shortcomings and mistakes." But he is still a powerful Cardinal, serving in a Basilica in Rome - a position his critics see as reward, not punishment.
Pope Benedict on Wednesday urged his bishops to put the abuse in a broader cultural context of increasing societal permissiveness and eroding values.
"What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?" Benedict asked.
Clohessy said those words gave the feel that Benedict was "trying somewhat to excuse or explain away some of the horrifying ongoing church scandal."
"There's not much he can do about people being online or watching TV," he said. "There's plenty he can do about bishops who concealed child sex crimes."
Barring disciplinary action from Rome, Clohessy advocated that bishops carry out their own self-punishment by suspending themselves or doing their own laundry or driving a smaller car - a sort of penance.
Earlier this week, Benedict called abuse by priests "a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the church in general and for me personally."
Those words rang hollow for Susan Renehan, a single mother from Southbridge, Massachusetts, who told The Boston Globe that she was repeatedly molested by a priest when she was in seventh and eighth grades.
"Did he mention the fact that this was a lot more painful for the children than it was for the church? I'm insulted," she was quoted as saying.
Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin, Texas, saw things differently. Speaking to ABC News before the pope arrived, he said he thought by merely referring to the issue, the pope would have made amends.
"I think the very fact that he would mention the topic would in itself be an apology," he said.