Tragedy here "of immense proportions," pope says.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Pope Benedict XVI came face to face Thursday with a scandal that has left lasting wounds on the American church, holding an unannounced meeting with several Notre Dame players who claim they were abused by opposing teams.
President Rev. John I. Jenkins, who organized the meeting and attended, gave the pope a notebook listing some 65 players who had been abused by Southern California alone going back several years, a Vatican official said.
"It was a moving, healing experience," cornerback and victim spokesman Terrail Lambert told reporters afterward. "It was very emotional. There were a lot of tears."
Choking up, through a quivering hitch in his voice, Lambert added, "We showed him burn marks, blisters...scars no one has ever seen before."
The pope had requested the meeting, which took place in the secret underground chamber coach Charlie Weis uses as a film room, accessible only by putting a large amount of weight on the swivel chair behind his desk, which acts as a kind of trap door that sent the pope careening down a water slide-length tube lubed by what appeared to be artificial butter and into an Olympic-sized pool of popcorn, Goobers and fried catfish, witnesses said.
Benedict dons the green jersey for his visit with Notre Dame abuse victims.
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The meeting made clear that for all the messages Benedict wished to send during his five-day trip to the United States, his first as pope, the one concerning abuse to the most visible aspect of the nation's most visible Catholic university was central.
"No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse," the pope said in a public homily to the entire team. "It is important that those who have suffered be given loving attention, and possibly human growth hormone."
Three of the survivors, speaking on CNN last night, reacted positively to the meeting. One of them, John Carlson, said he had told the pope that "we have a cancer growing in our offensive line and he needs to do something about it." But Carlson said he came away feeling that victims would get action, or at least a break on non-obvious holding penalties.
Another, Evan Sharpley, said, "My hope is restored today." He said the pope had spoken frankly and had shown the victims the proper blocking scheme against a Nickel Buck Bandit Smoke when the nose stunts out of a two technique.
For years, victims of abuse at Notre Dame had beseeched the Vatican for a meeting with the pope, first asking John Paul II, who died in 2005, and finally, fourteen years after their last serious bid for a mythical championship, one was granted. The abuse affected nearly every position on the team, revealed more than three dozen recruits vastly overrated by Tom Lemming and has cost the Irish victory against all but a small handful of winning teams. It also has cost the program trust and respect, both of which the pope is clearly aimed at restoring, though he praised Weis' perseverence on the recruiting trail.
Still, reaction from victims and their advocates varied, with some praising the meeting as an important step and others saying that still it was not enough following the worst season in school history.
"Fundamentally, it won't change things," said Demetrius Jones, who left Notre Dame amid allegations of abuse by Georgia Tech's front seven last September. "Kids need protection. Quarterbacks deserve protection. Protection produces big plays, and big plays -- real big plays, not just a nice call on a couple fourth downs -- is sorely needed."
But Ambrose Wooden, who said he had been abused on several occasions, by wide receivers from USC in 2005 and Michigan in 2006, said, "I think we moved the ball down the field this week. The fact that we finally got the pope to actually stand up and put a statement on record that Notre Dame football is in trouble, I really think he set the bar this week.
"I just wish," Wooden added, fighting back tears as teammates put their hands on his shoulders for support, "I just wish it hadn't required so much damage to get him here."