What happened
Pope Benedict XVI met and prayed privately in Washington, D.C., with five or six survivors of the clergy sex-abuse scandal on Thursday after urging bishops, priests, and parishioners to work together toward healing. At a huge outdoor Mass, the pope called for American Catholics to “overcome division” and reject the “anger,” “weakening moral sense,” and “growing forgetfulness of God” in modern society. (Baltimore Sun)

What the commentators said
Don’t underestimate the significance of Pope Benedict’s “unexpected” and “unprecedented” move, said John L. Allen Jr. in a National Catholic Reporter blog. Before Thursday, “no pope had ever met with victims of sexual abuse by priests.” He even went so far as to concede that the crisis had been “badly handled” at time by the U.S. bishops. Considered along with his expression of shame over the abuse, “these references suggest a broad desire on the part of the pope to signal to American Catholics that he “gets it”—meaning that he grasps the depth and gravity of the crisis.”

When it comes to the abuse scandal, words don’t matter, said Janet Bagnall in the Montreal Gazette. “The church has refused to do everything possible to heal the wound. And it is still refusing,” no matter what the pope says during his trip. Instead of stopping at an expression of the church’s “sorrow” over the victims’ suffering, the pope could get the healing started by laying out a plan for preventing the ordination of “those with pedophile tendencies, and “require that any priest alleged to have sexually assaulted a child, or an adult, be turned over to civil authorities to face criminal charges.”

Words do have power, and the pope’s “message of hope” was just what his audience needed to hear, said The Washington Post in an editorial (free registration). His “anguish” over abuses commited by pedophile priests “reflected an understanding of the seriousness of the offense,” and marked an important step toward healing. Pope Benedict’s “words were a positive reminder of our national character and its potential to do great good,” and it should inspire all Americans—not just Catholics.