Pope tackles sex abuse and the 3 'isms'

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 17, 2008

{mosimage}WASHINGTON - Pope Benedict XVI spent day two of his first visit to the United States dealing with his favourite topic — and his least favourite.

In two public events on his 81st birthday, the Pope returned to a theme he has often developed — the role of religion in support of a strong civic life. And in an attempt to begin to heal the still-open wound of the clergy sexual abuse crisis that rocked the country in 2002, he devoted a considerable portion of his talk to the 350 or so American bishops to the topic.

The Pope is meeting with Catholics at numerous public events in Washington and New York until April 20. He has been cheered on by noisy, if not large crowds along the streets that he has travelled in his glass-enclosed popemobile. Several times at public events, he was greeted with the singing of “Happy Birthday.” But it was the serious issues that he turned to in his public addresses.

“Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behaviour,” Pope Benedict told the bishops after a solemn Vespers in the crypt church at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

“It is your 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.”

The Pope acknowledged the strict measures already taken to beef up protection of children and the vulnerable in American dioceses. And he noted that the vast majority of clergy were not involved in abuse claims.

But he also observed that the wounds of the abuse were inflicted on the victims as well as many others, including the reputation of all priests. He said that in some dioceses the relationship between the bishop and his priests has been full of tension, while many priests feel they have lost the trust of their parishioners.

He urged the bishops to live by the moral values and model themselves on Jesus Christ.

“Moreover, by acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your dioceses, but in every sector of society,” he said, referring to the widespread availability of pornography and violence in popular media.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, acknowledged the responsibility of bishops for the scandal in his welcome remarks to the Pope.

“In our own day, the consequences of the dreadful sin of sexual abuse of minors by some priests and of its being sometimes very badly handled by bishops makes both the personal faith of some Catholics and the public life of the church herself more problematic,” he said.

While the remarks were some of the strongest made by Catholic prelates in response to the crisis, they failed to satisfy representatives of one of the organizations representing abuse victims.

“What the Pope should be doing is laying down the law with his bishops,” said Joelle Castiex of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, in a press release.

“He should be telling them they will be held accountable for concealing clergy sex crimes. He should be assuring Catholics worldwide that any bishop who shields a predator priest will lose his job and the priests will be swiftly defrocked.”

Pope Benedict devoted the larger part of his lengthy address to the bishops to an insightful analysis of the three “isms” afflicting modern culture — secularism, materialism and individualism. He argued that these three ideological forces are making it extremely impossible for even practising Catholics to live authentically Christian lives.

Secularism, he said, leads people to display the outward signs of being a Christian — such as attending Sunday liturgies — but living moral lives that contradict Christian teaching.

“Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures 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?”

Too strong a focus on individualism, he said, can lead a person to privatize their faith life “at the expense of our calling to be members of a redeemed community.”

Materialism makes it easy to forget that worshipping God, and not personal enjoyment on earth, is the ultimate purpose of their lives, he said.

He called on the bishops to provide a more concrete and deeper formation in the faith for all Catholics, especially the young so that they would be better prepared to live out their baptismal commitment as lay people to be the “leaven” in society.

“It cannot be assumed that all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the church's teaching on key ethical questions,” he said. “Once again, it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life.”

Later, he complained that too many Catholics “pick and choose” which church doctrines they would accept, while rejecting others. “We have seen this emerge in an acute way in the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion.”

The Pope said he was especially worried about the state of the modern family. He deplored the rise in divorce, cohabitation and infidelity in marriage.

“In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings,” he said, “and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.”

Earlier in the day, during a morning welcome ceremony on the south lawn of the White House, the Pope was given a warm reception by President George Bush and some 12,000 people. In his remarks to the president, the Pope praised the vibrant religious life of the American people.

“As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.”

In a reference to the U.S. administration's tendency to use military means to tackle terrorist and other threats, the Pope also urged the president to have more faith in “the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress.”

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