By John Norton
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Meeting with America’s 350 Catholic bishops in the crypt of the national shrine, Pope Benedict XVI called the clerical sex abuse scandal a source of “deep shame” that, in the words of the bishops’ conference president, had been “sometimes very badly handled.”
The pope said the bishops were right to prioritize “showing compassion and care to the victims,” and said their policies to eradicate the problem were having success.
But he said a comprehensive solution to the crisis required a radical course correction in broader U.S. sexual attitudes and practices. “What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?” he said.
The pope’s speech Wednesday, on the first full day of his six-day visit to Washington, D.C., and New York, was his first public address to an exclusively Church audience, and one of the longest of his pontificate, according to people traveling with him. A day earlier, the pope addressed the abuse scandal in a press conference during the flight to Washington, saying the Church was “deeply ashamed” and needed to address it by tightening seminary admittance standards.
The clerical sex abuse scandal occupied about a quarter of the pope’s remarks to the bishops during an evening prayer service at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic Church in North America and one of the biggest in the world.
He said many of the bishops had told him of “enormous pain” among Catholic Americans because of the crisis, and called it the bishops’ “God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.”
He said now that the scope of the scandal was more clearly understood, the bishops were able to implement targeted “remedial and disciplinary measures and to promote a safe environment.” These efforts “are bearing great fruit.”
But he said the problem of child sex abuse, found “not only within dioceses but in every sector of society,” required a “determined, collective response” and showed the need for an urgent reassessment of societal values not only by parents, religious leaders and teachers, but also the media and entertainment industries.
“Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today,” he said.
The pope also urged bishops to pay special attention to rebuilding morale among their priests, some of whom were struggling to deal with the scandal’s consequences. He said there were signs that the crisis had led to a healthy purification in the Church.
He urged the bishops to lead their priests by example, inspiring them to holiness.
“Indeed, a clearer focus upon the imitation of Christ in holiness of life is exactly what is needed in order for us to move forward. We need to rediscover the joy of living a Christ-centered life, cultivating the virtues and immersing ourselves in prayer. When the faithful know that their pastor is a man who prays and dedicates his life to serving them, they respond with warmth and affection that nourishes and sustains the life of the whole community,” he said.
The pope praised the Church in America, calling it one of the largest and most influential in the world. “American Catholics are noted for their loyal devotion to the see of Peter,” he said.
According to the pope, the United States is marked by a genuine religious spirit, but “the subtle influence of secularism” is leading to a disconnection between peoples’ faith and actions.
“Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical practices contrary to those beliefs? Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?” he said.
The pope also warned about the danger of materialism and excessive individualism.
In opening remarks to the pope, Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, noted that some bishops had handled the clerical sex abuse crisis “very badly.” He also told the pope the bishops’ conference had recently identified five priorities: strengthening family life; protecting human life at all stages; handing on the faith in the context of the sacraments and Sunday worship; fostering religious and priestly vocations; and “profiting from the cultural diversity” of the Church in the United States.
Some of those issues were raised in a scripted question-and-answer session after the pope’s address.
Click here for the text of the pope's remarks»
Comments or questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Sunday VisitorCreate Your Badge
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs