Pope Francis will visit Sri Lanka in January 2015

Pope Francis - TimePope Francis has confirmed his trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, in January 2015, Vatican sources said  Next to his plans to visit Korea in August, the sun-drenched tea-producing island and former Ceylon is another location the pontiff will head to in Asia.

Pope Francis will meet with a group of sex abuse victims for the first time in June, he told reporters May 26. During an inflight news conference on his return to Rome from the Holy Land, the pope also confirmed reports the Vatican is investigating charges its former secretary of state misappropriated $20 million from the Vatican bank. And he announced he plans to visit the Philippines and Sri Lanka in January.

The pope described the abuse of children by priests as “such an ugly crime” and a “very grave” problem, the betrayal of a priest’s duty to lead young people to holiness, comparable to performance of a Black Mass.

“We must move ahead, ahead, zero tolerance,” he said. As an indication of how seriously he takes the problem, the pope said he would meet in the first week of June with a group of six to eight sex abuse victims from various countries, including Germany, England and Ireland. He also will celebrate a private Mass with the group in the Vatican guesthouse, where he lives. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, a member of the recently established Vatican commission on child protection, will be present at the gathering, the pope said.

Pope Francis is not known ever to have met with a group of sex abuse victims, something Pope Benedict did several times in various countries. Marie Collins, a sex abuse survivor from Ireland whom the pope named to the child protection commission, met him at the Vatican in May.

Pope Francis said the church cannot have privileged “daddy’s boys,” exempt from punishment when it comes to sex abuse of minors. He revealed that three unnamed bishops are currently under investigation by the Vatican for misdeeds related to sex abuse, and another has been found guilty and is awaiting punishment. It was not clear if the bishops in question had been accused of personally abusing children or of mishandling accusations of abuse against other priests.

The pope also was asked about reports that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as Vatican secretary of state was considered the highest Vatican official, mishandled 15 million euro (about $20.5 million) in funds held by the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank. “It’s something being studied, it’s not clear,” the pope said. “Maybe it’s the truth, but at this moment it’s not definitive.”

Discussing what he has frequently called a “throwaway culture,” the pope said it was exemplified not only by youth unemployment and neglect of the elderly, problems he has cited before, but also by low fertility rates in Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain.

Regarding the two Synods of Bishops on the family he has called for this October and October 2015, the pope lamented what he characterized as an overemphasis, by members of the clergy among others, on the question of when divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may receive Communion.

According to the Vatican, “the trip is already planned,” and the priests in Sri Lanka believe the Pope’s presence in their country will favour reconciliation and genuine social peace on the island.

The only wish expressed by the bishops is that the trip coincide with the canonization ceremony of Joseph Vaz (1651-1711), an Indian priest, apostle of Ceylon beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

 The figure of Vaz is venerated throughout the entire island, uniting two principal ethnic groups, Senegalese and Tamil. Between 1983 and 2009 civil war among these two groups caused more than 70,000 deaths. Currently, the situation is still unstable, but there is hope that the pope’s visit could help restore peace. 

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