The Pope made this reflection today as he -- together with some 15,000 priests in St. Peter's Square -- closed the Year for Priests.
Reflecting on the glory of the priesthood, the Holy Father said that it "was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood 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."
"And so it happened," the Pontiff continued, "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."
Benedict XVI was clear in affirming that "[w]e too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved."
And he added the promise to "do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again."
The Pope spoke of admitting men into priestly ministry and overseeing their formation, saying that in these contexts, "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."
Still a success
The Bishop of Rome reflected that the shadow of the scandal did not impede the goals of the Year for Priests.
He explained: "Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. 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."
In fact, the Pope proposed, the scandal should be looked upon 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," he said, "his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility."
Service of love
Later in the homily, the Pope again alluded to the scandal of priestly sexual abuse.
During his reflection on Psalm 23's line, "Your rod and your staff -- they comfort me," the Pontiff noted the importance of the rod for a shepherd.
He needs it as "protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey," the Holy Father explained.
"The Church too must use the shepherd’s rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray," he said. "The use of the rod can actually be a service of love."
And he affirmed, "Today we can see that it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated."
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On ZENIT's Web page:
Full text: www.zenit.org/article-29576?l=english