ST. PETERSBURG — Abused by a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pinellas Park when he was 11, Chris McCafferty said he was stunned when he learned that Pope Benedict XVI met and prayed with victims of clergy sexual abuse last week.
"I think that says a lot that he is acknowledging that happened and that he is working to repair what happened in the Catholic Church,'' said McCafferty, 35.
"He said he is ashamed. God bless him for even saying something like that."
The St. Petersburg salesman is among several area victims who say they are pleased with the pope's forthright and contrite response to the sexual abuse scandal that broke in 2002. Closure, though, is elusive if not impossible, they say.
"I don't think you ever get closure in things like this,'' said Mick Dalrymple, 54, who has said he was abused in the 1960s at a boys' boarding school in Tampa operated by the Salesians, a Catholic religious order.
Still, he got some satisfaction from the pope's action.
"I got a sense of acknowledgement finally,'' said Dalrymple, who lives in Melbourne. "I think it would be similar to someone who went to jail for a long time and finally got vindicated.''
Last week, the pope, on his first papal visit to the United States, met and prayed with five sex abuse victims in Washington. That was after first discussing the subject on his flight to America, during which he said he was "deeply ashamed'' and would do whatever possible to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.
His actions surprised Martha Jean Lorenzo, head of the Florida and Tampa Bay area chapters of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
"I'm unexpectedly impressed with him. I felt that there was no hope, but I think he really came here because of the victims. I was surprised that the pope did address sexual abuse issues, and I am extremely satisfied with his comments and expressions of concern and warmth for all victims,'' said Lorenzo, 61, who said she was abused by a nun while attending a Catholic college.
But as gratifying as the pontiff's' actions were, the Tampa woman said most victims want him to deal with "serious issues of omission and coverups'' by a number of U.S. bishops.
"He has promised to take a very personal interest. We hope that he is really going to try and clean house with American bishops,'' she said.
Nearly 14,000 molestation claims have been filed against Catholic clergy since 1950, according to a report from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Abuse-related costs have reached at least $2.3-billion in the same period.
McCafferty is among the victims who have received settlements. He was a victim of former priest Robert Schaeufele. Schaeufele was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pinellas Park when he molested McCafferty and other boys.
In 2004, the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg agreed to pay $1,075,000 to McCafferty and 11 other men in the Schaeufele case.
McCafferty can't help comparing Pope Benedict's response to that of the late Pope John Paul II. McCafferty, now the father of a 6-year-old daughter, said he wrote Pope John Paul a letter about the abuse.
"I never got a response. I am a little upset about that. To me, I think there's a big difference between Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict,'' said McCafferty, who remained in the Catholic Church and worships at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg.
"I think Pope Benedict has accepted responsibility for what has gone on in the Catholic Church," McCafferty said. "He's not sweeping it under the rug. He's taking the bull by the horns meeting with the victims. Pope John Paul, God rest his soul, he had other ideas.''
Dalrymple, now retired from the military and working at a Pizza Hut in Palm Bay, said he was molested at Mary Help of Christians — then a boarding school for boys operated by the Salesians — from 5th through 8th grade. He said the order settled his case a year ago.
Though he wants nothing to do with any type of organized religion, Dalrymple praised the pope's public discussion of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal.
"Prior to this pope, they didn't care. He is stepping forward. He knows that it was handled badly by the bishops,'' he said.
"I definitely think that his willingness to meet with the victims is a positive step,'' said Melissa Price, 37, of New Port Richey, who said she was molested by the Rev. Polienato Bernabe when he was a priest at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Gulfport. Price received a settlement in 2003 from the Diocese of St. Petersburg, whose jurisdiction includes Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. Price founded the area's first SNAP chapter.
Bishop Robert Lynch established the forerunner of the diocese's Review Board, which assesses sexual abuse allegations and fitness for ministry, shortly after he arrived in 1996, said Sue Brett, who heads the board. She said six victims of sexual abuse came forward in the past year.
Brett is also glad the pope addressed the matter.
"I am very pleased and hopeful that coming from the pope himself and seeing his level of care and concern for the victims … that it demonstrates the true commitment that the Catholic Church has as a whole … for healing and pastoral care of those who have been so hurt and traumatized by this type of abuse,'' she said.
Joseph Saunders, a Pinellas Park lawyer who has represented dozens of victims across the United States since 2002, including McCafferty and Dalrymple, praised Lynch's response to local clergy abuse.
"Other bishops have not been so proactive in reaching out to the victims,'' he said. Saunders called the pope's actions "significant.''
"I think it will send a message to the bishops that they need to take a more active role in this," he said. "I don't think that Pope John Paul sent a message to the bishops of the people in the United States that this was something that needed to be addressed.''
Dalrymple said the pope's actions were groundbreaking.
"I believe it was necessary,'' he said. "It made me feel redeemed — some.''
Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren contributed to this report, which also contains information from the Associated Press. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727)892-2283.