Benedict XVI's Condemnation of Sexual Abuse Crisis

Proposes to Help Victims, Make Sure It's Never Repeated

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By Mercedes de la Torre



VATICAN CITY, FEB. 16, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Throughout his pontificate, Benedict XVI has imparted a clear teaching regarding the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, which is founded on the three clear principles of helping the victims, reestablishing truth and justice, and making sure it doesn't happen again.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, offered this analysis today during a press conference at the conclusion of two-day meeting between the Pope and the bishops of Ireland.

He explained that is it possible to understand the Pontiff's thinking on this issue by reading what he has said on seven different occasions in which he addressed the particular situations of Ireland, the United States and Australia.

On Oct. 28, 2006, the Holy Father addressed the Irish bishops on the topic upon receiving them in audience during their five-yearly "ad limina" visit. He said on that occasion: "The wounds caused by such acts run deep, and it is an urgent task to rebuild confidence and trust where these have been damaged.

"In your continuing efforts to deal effectively with this problem, it is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes."

Shame

On April 15, 2008, responding to a question by journalist John Allen during his flight to the United States, Benedict XVI spoke of his personal consternation regarding the crisis: "It is difficult for me to understand how it was possible for priests to fail in this way the mission to give healing, to give God's love to these children.

"I am ashamed and we will do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen in future."

"The victims will need healing and help and assistance and reconciliation: this is a big pastoral engagement," he said before landing in the United States.

A day later, in an address to the bishops of the United States at the  Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Father urged the prelates "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 added, "Your efforts to heal and protect are bearing great fruit not only for those directly under your pastoral care, but for all of society."

Benedict XVI picked up the theme once more on April 17 during the Mass said at the Washington Nationals Stadium. He called on all Catholics "to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do. And above all, pray that the Holy Spirit will pour out his gifts upon the Church, the gifts that lead to conversion, forgiveness and growth in holiness."

Helpers, not adversaries

Later that year, the Pope traveled to Australia to preside at the World Youth Day. During the flight on July 12, he answered a question on the abuse crises put forth by Australian journalist Auskar Surbaktiel. The Pontiff affirmed that "it is essential for the Church to reconcile, to prevent, to help and also to see guilt in these problems."

"It must be clear," he explained, "it was always clear from the first centuries, that the priesthood, to be a priest, is incompatible with this behaviour, because the priest is in the service of Our Lord, and Our Lord is holiness in person, and always teaching us -- the Church has always insisted on this.

"We have to reflect on what was insufficient in our education, in our teaching in recent decades. There are things which are always bad, and paedophilia is always bad. In our education, in the seminaries, in our permanent formation of the priests, we have to help priests to really be close to Christ, to learn from Christ, and so to be helpers, and not adversaries of our fellow human beings, of our Christians."

The Holy Father noted that it is necessary to reflect on the sense of the word "apologize."

"I think it is better, more important to give the content of the formula, and I think the content has to say what was insufficient in our behaviour, what we must do in this moment, how we can prevent and how we all can heal and reconcile," he said.

On July 19, during his homily at a Mass said at the cathedral of Sydney, Benedict XVI pointed out that abuse of children and young adults is strongly rebuked by Christ in the Gospel.

Violation of rights

Earlier this month, on Feb. 8, speaking to the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Holy Father took up the topic again: "Following Christ's example, the Church down the centuries has encouraged the protection of the dignity and rights of minors and has taken care of them in many ways.

"Unfortunately in various cases some of her members, acting in opposition to this commitment, have violated these rights: conduct which she does not and will not fail to deplore and condemn."

"The tenderness and teaching of Jesus, who saw children as a model to imitate in order to enter the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 18: 1-6; 19: 13-14), have always constituted a pressing appeal to foster deep respect and care for them," he added. "Jesus' harsh words against those who cause one of these little ones to sin (cf. Mk 9: 42), engage everyone always to adhere to this degree of respect and love."