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Barbara Blaine, the founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, tells Al Jazeera that Pope Benedict XVI should help put predator priests behind bars.

Al Jazeera: Barbara, the pope on his visit to the US has been making some of his strongest comments about the sexual abuse that has taken place within the US Catholic Church. He has condemned it in some of the harshest words. But as a survivor of sexual abuse, do you feel what you heard is enough?
 

Barbara Blaine: I believe that lofty words and flowery prayers will not protect children and what we keep hoping for is some strong concrete action on the part of the Holy Father.

 

What would you like to have heard him say?

 

Well, we would like him to say … Yesterday he met with all the bishops in America and he said they were doing a good job. And we would have preferred if he would have actually sanctioned some of the most egregious bishops or those who have acted most egregiously and if he would have given some form of punishment or consequences because so many children's lives have been shattered.

 

He also said the crisis was mishandled by the church officials and he spoke of the culture of permissiveness here in the United States.

 

When he spoke of permissiveness in the United States, that's really shifting blame. There have always been paedophile priests that slipped through the cracks and made it into the church and I believe there always will be.

But what we need to see is a different response by the bishops and the supervisors to turn those people over to the police and to stop enabling and covering up for paedophiles.

 

Are you saying that he himself might bear some direct responsibility in either protecting the higher-ranking bishops who have been accused of sexually-abusing children or actually been covering up what's been going on?

 

For the past 25 years before Pope Benedict became pope, he actually was the cardinal in charge of the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). And that is the one place where all bishops in the whole world were directed to send all allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy.

So if anyone knows this issue, the Holy Father probably knows more about it than anyone else in the world.

 

Do you hold him responsible then for the confidential letter that was written in 2001 and sent to bishops in which he asked that some of these cases remain within the church and get investigated within the church, and that the police should stay out of it?

 

Yes, that's really disappointing because we believe no one should be above the law of a society and just because they wear a Roman collar doesn't mean that the devastation to the child is any less.

 

He was cardinal back then.

 

Yes.

 

Was he the one who signed the letter then?

 

I believe that he may have been involved in writing it but I believe that the directive came from the pope [John Paul II] at that time.

 

So when he comes to the United States and he talks about this gravely immoral behaviour on the part of priests who have sexually abused children, do you see this as just a peer exercise or do you think he is more serious in ridding the church of these types of people?

 

They have always taught us in the church that actions speak louder than words. So if that's true, we would like to see the actions. Unfortunately, predator priests have been permitted to escape across international boundaries and find sanctuary in other countries.

One sign that the pope is sincere would be for him to demand that they all be removed out of the religious communities and houses and that the church stop giving sanctuary to them.

 

But when he said that the matter needs to remain inside the church for at least a few years do you think it was maybe an attempt on his part to avoid embarrassing the church?

 

The church leaders want to continually keep everything secret and hidden. But the bottom line is that if they were to expose the truth we believe that it would actually make the church healthier and better.

 

And that the safest place for children would be if these predators were put behind bars and kept in jails. Then we would know that they can't abuse another child.

 

And we think that the pope should be assisting in the criminal prosecution of the men.

 

A study done here in the United States by the bishops actually determined that out of all those 5,100 predators less than 2 per cent ever served a day in jail. So the church officials have succeeded in covering up 98 per cent or shielding them from law enforcement.