“A shock for me, a great sadness”
September 22nd, 2010
Revelations of priestly abuse “have been a shock for me, not only a great sadness,” Pope Benedict XVI told journalists on Sept. 16 while airborne for his apostolic journey to the United Kingdom.
“It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible,” he said.
The Holy Father, who later in the journey addressed the abuse issue at a public Mass in London and met separately with a victims’ group and the Church’s child protection officers, continued in his response to journalists:
“The priest at the time of ordination, after having prepared for this moment for years, says yes to Christ, to be his voice, his mouth, his hands and serve Him with his whole life, so that the Good Shepherd who loves and helps and guides to the truth is present in the world.
“How a man who has done this and said this may also fall into this perversion is difficult to understand. It is a great sadness, a sadness that even the authority of the Church has not been sufficiently vigilant and not fast or decided enough in taking the necessary measures.
“Because of all of this,” the Holy Father said, “we are in a time of repentance, humility and renewed sincerity.”
In his homily at a public Mass Sept. 18 at London’s Westminster Cathedral, the 83-year-old pontiff expressed “my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives.”
He acknowledged the “shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered” and invited the audience to trust in the power of Christ’s chastisement to heal the victims, purify the Church and renew the Church’s age-old commitment to the education and care of young people.
The Holy Father met with a group of abuse victims the same day. “He was moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered,” the Vatican said in a statement.
The pope prayed with the victims and assured them that the Church is continuing to put measures in place to safeguard young people and that it is doing all it can to investigate clergy and religious accused of these “egregious crimes,” the Vatican said.
The group included four women and one man, all adults, who came from England, Scotland and Wales, Catholic News Service reported. Each had time to speak “with great intensity and emotion” about their suffering, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters.
He said the pope prayed with them at the beginning and the end of the encounter; the only other people present were three people who work with abuse victims and a translator.
Asked whether 30 minutes was enough time for the pope to have given the victims, Bill Kilgallon, head of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, said: “It’s longer than the prime minister got.”
The pope has previously met with abuse victims in the United States, Australia and Malta, and the Vatican has said such meetings are part of an effort to implement the pope’s own call for “absolute transparency” over sexual abuse and its commitment to reconciliation with victims.
In London, the pope met with the Church’s child protection officers and said their efforts have helped ensure that abuse allegations are met “swiftly and justly.”
“While there are never grounds for complacency, credit should be given where it is due: the efforts of the church in this country and elsewhere, especially in the last 10 years, to guarantee the safety of children and young people and to show them every respect as they grow to maturity, should be acknowledged,” he said.
The “shameful” clerical sex abuse crisis “seriously undermines the moral credibility of church leaders,” the pope told bishops at a Sept. 19 meeting in Birmingham, England.
“I have spoken on many occasions of the deep wounds that such behavior causes – in the victims first and foremost – but also in the relationships of trust that should exist between priests and people, between priests and their bishops, and between the church authorities and the public,” he said.
The pope told the bishops they must continue their efforts to reach out to the victims, to carefully screen candidates for the priesthood and other church offices and “deal properly and transparently with allegations as they arise.”
The child protection procedures developed by the Catholic Church in Great Britain over the past 10 years also should be shared with the wider community, the pope said, because children continue to be victims of abuse in a variety of settings.
As the London meeting took place, protesters in another part of the city – including some abuse victims – accused the pope of protecting abusive priests.
Groups of hecklers greeted the pope at various stops in London, holding up banners condemning clergy sexual abuse and demanding the pope’s resignation.
Addressing the midday rally of about 300 outside St. Mary’s University College in Twickenham Sept. 17, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said covering up sexual abuse was the “most serious charge” against the pope.
On Sept.19, some 10,000 protesters marched through London, among them Nina Kaye.
She came with her husband and son, holding up a banner that read, “Prosecute pedophile priests.”
“I’m just so angry that the terrible abuse by priests is being covered up,” she told Catholic News Service. “Pedophilia isn’t an illness, as the pope said, but a crime, and the church shouldn’t be placing itself above the law.”
Members of organizations representing clergy abuse victims from five countries circulated leaflets outside the Catholic Westminster Cathedral. “We ask you and your fellow-Catholics to insist on real reform, not just lip service and window dressing from church officials,” the leaflet said.
“While a few complicit church officials have voluntarily resigned, no one has ever been demoted, disciplined or defrocked for putting children in harm’s way. Until bishops experience real consequences for covering up crimes, kids will continue to be unsafe,” the pamphlet said.
In Belgium last week, an independent commission revealed allegations of widespread abuse in the Church and noted that the problem was worst in the 1960s.
In Ireland last year, a commission reporting on “oppressive” conditions in state institutions for young people found that sexual abuse was widespread and was treated in isolation and secrecy by the authorities.
From September 24, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.