Benedict on a mission of healingFATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
On his first trip to the United States, Pope Benedict plans to address the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests on five separate occasions, most directly when speaking to U.S. bishops later today, organizers said.
“It is a great suffering for the Church in the United States and for the Church in general and for me personally that this could happen,” he said in a 20-minute press conference, speaking in English.
“It is difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betray in this way their mission to give healing, to give the love of God to these children. I am deeply ashamed and we will do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future.”
The Pope cited the zero-tolerance policy adopted by U.S. bishops in 2002, barring from ministry any priest credibly accused of sexual abuse, as well as new norms for seminaries.
“We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry,” he said.
“It is more important to have good priests than many priests. We will do everything possible to heal this wound.”
Before his election as Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Vatican congregation charged with disciplining priests accused of the most grave crimes. He supervised the implementation of the 2002 penalties adopted by the U.S. bishops.
While the details have not been confirmed, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Holy See’s representative to the United States, said Benedict will likely meet sexual-abuse victims during his visit.
The Pope’s statements on the plane echo his earlier characterization of sexual abuse as “filth” in the priesthood.
Pope John Paul II, speaking in Toronto in 2002 in the months after the crisis broke, said, “The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame.” Earlier in 2002, he wrote the most extensive papal statement on the sexual-abuse crisis, saying in a letter to priests, “We are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination in succumbing even to the most grievous forms of the mysterium iniquitatis [mystery of evil] at work in the world.”
While such statements expressed matters in theologically precise terms, there has been a desire among victims’ groups for a more expansive and personal response from the Pope. In this first papal visit since the crisis, Benedict will have an opportunity to do just that.
Victims’ groups have called for him to speak not only about abusive priests, but the responsibility of the bishops who did not remove them quickly enough. While the Pope will address bishops this afternoon, it is expected his comments will remain guarded as there are at least two outstanding lawsuits claiming the Holy See itself should be liable for damages, even though it is an independent state.
The Pope arrived yesterday afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington to be greeted by George W. Bush, the U.S. President, the only time Mr. Bush has met a visiting leader on the tarmac.
There were no speeches at the 20-minute arrival ceremony, though the two men had a brief private meeting along with the receiving party.
Today, Mr. Bush will formally receive Benedict at the White House, in a ceremony to which 12,000 people have been invited, the largest such event of the Bush presidency. This evening, he will host a dinner to celebrate Benedict’s 81st birthday, although the Pope will not attend as pontiffs customarily do not dine in public.
The extraordinary reception indicates the high esteem Mr. Bush has for Benedict. Asked by a U.S. Catholic TV network what he saw when he looked into the eyes of Benedict, he replied: “God.”
In return, Benedict spoke yesterday of the model the United States can be for Europe, in that Americans have a secular state that is open to religious vitality.
This morning Bush and Benedict will have their formal meeting, at which they are expected to discuss human rights, religious freedom and, as Benedict indicated yesterday on the plane, immigration, especially the plight of families separated from each other.
Security in Washington may be the largest operation ever mounted for a foreign leader, with those attending papal events having to report hours in advance and all 5,000 journalists subject to Secret Service clearance.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Benedict on a mission of healing." National Post, (Canada) April 16, 2008.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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