En route to the United States, Pope Benedict took the opportunity to field questions from the reporters. John Allen, Jr. asked the Holy Father of his thoughts on the clergy abuse scandals that have beset the Catholic Church in America in recent years:
John Allen: Holy Father, I’ll ask my question in English. I know you will speak principally in Italian, but we would be grateful for at least a few words in English. The Catholic church in the United States is large and dynamic, but also suffering, above all because of the recent sexual abuse crisis. The American people are waiting to hear what you have to say on this subject. What will your message be?
Pope Benedict XVI: It is a great suffering for the church in the United States, for the church in general, and for me personally that this could happen. If I read the histories of these victims, it’s difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way their mission to give healing and to give the love of God to these children. We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that is possible that this cannot happen in the future.
I think we have to act on three levels.
The first is the level of justice, the juridical level. We now have also norms to react in a just way. I would not speak in this moment about homosexuality, but pedophilia, [which] is another thing. We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry, this is absolutely incompatible. And who is really guilty of being a pedophile cannot be a priest. So the first level is, as we can do justice and help clearly the victims, because they are deeply touched. So [there are] two sides of justice, on the one hand that pedophiles cannot be priests; on the other hand, to help in all the possible ways to the victims.
The second level is the pastoral level, the level of healing and help of assistance and of reconciliation. This is a big pastoral engagement, and I know that the bishops and the priests and all the Catholic people in the United States will do all possible to help assist and to heal, and to help that in the future these things cannot happen.
The third point [is that] we have made a visitation in the seminaries to also do what is possible in the education of seminarians for a deep, spiritual, human and intellectual formation –with discernment so that only sound persons can be admitted to the priesthood, only persons with a deep personal love for Christ and a deep sacramental love, to exclude that this can happen [again]. I know that the bishops and the rectors of seminarians will do all that is possible so that we have a strong discernment, because it’s more important to have good priests than to have many priests. This is also our third level, and we hope that we can do, and we have done, and we will do in the future, all that is possible to heal this wound.
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The sex scandal in the Catholic Church seems to be a never-ending story.
But if someone is capable of bringing this to some kind of closure it’s the Pope. Not only because he has the authority, but because he has given the only truly effective response the Catholic Church can provide to this painful issue: conversion. A key Catholic word that’s usually looked down upon, conversion means repentance, reparation and a 180-degree change. ...
- Fr. James Martin on "The Church’s Shame, and the Priesthood":
Why would anyone want to be a priest after the abuse crisis? Who would want to join an organization like the Catholic Church, much less represent it publicly? How could someone still hear the “call”? What will the church do without priests? ...
- Pope fails to placate abuse victims, by Ian Urbina and Abby Goodnough. International Herald Tribune April 16, 2008.