Pope Urges Bishops to Be Just, Merciful on Sex Abuse Questions

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service [Vatican City]
Downloaded October 9, 2003

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In dealing with accusations that priests are guilty of sexual misconduct, bishops must "always be just and always be merciful," Pope John Paul II told Philippine prelates.

"True discipleship calls for love, compassion and, at times, strict discipline in order to serve the common good," the pope said Oct. 9 in a message to bishops making their "ad limina" visits to Rome, required of heads of dioceses every five years.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has been rocked by a handful of well-publicized accusations of sexual abuse or misconduct against priests and two bishops.

In July, the national bishops' conference moved to finalize procedures for dealing with sexual misconduct by clergy. Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of Lipa, chairman of the bishops' Commission on Clergy, said the procedures emphasize the healing of victims and offending priests.

Pope John Paul told the visiting bishops, "I wish you to know that I am aware of the sensitive way in which you have attempted to address this issue, and I encourage you not to lose hope."

The pope said he is well aware that "the scandalous behavior of a few has undermined the credibility of many."

In addition to dealing sternly with priests who commit acts of misconduct, he said, the bishops also must be more careful in choosing candidates for the priesthood and work harder to prepare them for a life of celibacy.

"Here I wish to emphasize that celibacy is to be regarded as an integral part of the priest's exterior and interior life," he said.

Even after ordination, the pope said, priests need continuing education that "promotes the priestly virtues of charity, prayer, chastity and faithful celebration of the liturgy, practices unappreciated or even rejected by modern culture and its media."

Without faithful, committed priests, Pope John Paul said, the church in the Philippines will be hampered in its attempts to form a community of faithful who live in harmony with God, with each other and with creation.

"Being a disciple of the Lord is not a whimsical decision, but is instead a serious, loving response to a personal invitation" to believe and to live as a believer, he said.

It will only be through "authentic discipleship, based on loving solidarity, that the Philippines can begin to resolve the worrisome dichotomy between faith and life which plagues so many modern societies," the pope said.

Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu, speaking on behalf of the visiting bishops, congratulated the pope on his upcoming 25th anniversary and thanked him for his leadership.

"We look up to your sublime example of generous service and total self-giving as inspiration and guide," the cardinal said. "Your courage, springing from indomitable faith and exuberant hope, gives us the strength to face our own challenges at home with serenity and resolve."

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