Pope Benedict closed the Year for Priests with a powerful apology for the Church for the clergy sexual abuse crisis. “We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved,” said Pope Benedict XVI at a closing Mass today for the Year for Priests held in St. Peter’s Square and attended by more than 15,000 priests from 90 countries.
Pope Benedict’s words of apology were accompanied by the pledge “to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again.”
In his homily, the pope concluded the year-long celebration and meditation on the priesthood by returning to one of his major themes in talking about the problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests: the need for the Church to recognize that the current crisis is an opportunity for a genuine spiritual renewal and a time of purification to be faced with “courage and humility.”
Pope Benedict added one other element in his assessment of the spiritual reality underlying the scandal – the presence of the Devil. “It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood,” the pope declared, “would not be pleasing to the ‘enemy’; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world.” He went on to say:
“And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers.”
The pope said that the Year for Priests was not about the “glorification of our individual human performance.” If it had been so, then the celebrations “would have been ruined by these” scandals.
“But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in "earthen vessels" which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility. The word of God, which we have sung in the Entrance Antiphon of today’s liturgy, can speak to us, at this hour, of what it means to become and to be a priest: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29).”