Pope Visit: Benedict XVI Says Abusive Clergy Suffering from ‘illness’

By Jonathan Wynne-Jones and Martin Beckford
The Telegraph
September 16, 2010

[with video of the Pope's speech at Holyrood]

Paedophile priests are suffering from an “illness” and represent a “perversion” of their ministry, the Pope suggested in some of his strongest comments on the clergy abuse scandal engulfing the worldwide Roman Catholic Church.

Speaking to reporters on board the papal plane even before it touched down in Britain, Benedict XVI also admitted that the Vatican had been too slow to react to the problem.

He said that the focus will now be on helping victims of sexual assault and violence committed by priests, in an attempt to placate critics who believe the focus so far has been on defending the church’s reputation.

Over the past year, claims of endemic abuse in Catholic-run institutions have emerged around the world alongside evidence that the hierarchy covered up crimes and allowed guilty clergy to move on to other parishes.

The most recent allegations have surfaced in Belgium, where at least 13 victims are said to have committed suicide, and Germany, where Jesuit orders are considering offering compensation of EU5,000 to those who suffered at the hands of schoolteachers when young.

Benedict has been repeatedly accused of taking part in a high-level cover-up as before becoming Pope he spent 24 years as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the successor to the Holy Inquisition, and had ordered that all allegations of abuse should be passed to him.

He has on occasion apologised to victims of clergy abuse, telling those in Ireland earlier this year that he was “truly sorry” for what had happened in a pastoral letter.

But answering questions from the Vatican press corps before his arrival at Edinburgh International Airport, Benedict went further in explaining why he believes the scandals have taken place.

Speaking in Italian, the Pope said: “To me it was a great shock that priests were behaving that way.

“Now we are in a moment of repentance, humility and a renewed attempt at sincerity.

“It is hard to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible.

“It is a great sadness that the church authorities were not sufficiently vigilant and did not sufficiently respond.

“They were not quick and decisive enough in taking the necessary measures.”

Describing what he thought of as the most important point, the Pontiff said: “Concern for the victims has to be our first priority.”

He said the church must help them overcome their trauma.

The Pontiff went on to say there must be a “just penalty” for guilty priests, and added: “They must be excluded from all possibility of access to young people because we know that this is an illness and goodwill does not work when there is this sickness.

“Therefore we must protect these people from themselves.”

The Pope said candidates for the priesthood must be screened more effectively.

However he did not address the damaging claims of cover-ups by senior clergy.

The American Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement: "It's disingenuous to say church officials have been slow and insufficiently vigilant in dealing with clergy sex crimes and cover-ups.

"On the contrary, they've been prompt and vigilant, but in concealing, not preventing, these horrors."

Benedict is likely to hold a private meeting with abuse survivors during his four-day visit to Britain, although some campaigners have said they want him to take action now and do not want to be “wheeled out” for a “PR stunt”.


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