Pope Concedes Church Mishandled Problem of Clerical Child Sex Abuse

Irish Times
September 17, 2010

[with video]

Nuns listen to the pope saying Mass at Bellahouston Park. The pope called the UK a "land of great tolerance".
Photographs: PA/Reuters

POPE BENEDICT XVI got his retaliation in first yesterday when he himself raised many of the contentious issues linked to his state visit to the UK during his traditional chat with the Vatican press corps on the papal flight to Edinburgh yesterday morning.

Answering pre-submitted questions from journalists, the pope touched on issues such as relations with Anglicans and the British state.

Most significantly, however, he faced the sex abuse crisis head on when he conceded that the Catholic Church had mishandled the problem.

“These revelations [of clerical child sex abuse] were a great shock for me and represent a great sadness. It’s difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible.

“Priests, at the moment of their ordination, something for which they have been preparing for years, promise themselves to Christ, offering to be his hands and his mouth so that the Good Shepherd who loves and helps and leads us to truth might be present in the world,” he said

“How someone who has said and done this then falls into a great perversion is hard to understand. This a great sadness, a sadness that even the authority of the church was not vigilant enough, not sufficiently fast and decisive when it came to taking the necessary measures.

“For all those reasons, we’re now in a moment of penitence, of humility and of renewed sincerity as I wrote to the Irish bishops [in February].”

Speaking in Italian so as not to tire himself unnecessarily, Pope Benedict also touched on the question of the reception he might expect in multicultural, secular, modern Britain.

He said that before he had travelled to France and the Czech Republic, his advisers had warned him against a hostile reception which, in the end, did not happen.

Calling the UK a land of “great tolerance”, he said he believed he would receive a positive reception, adding: “I am going forward with great courage and with joy.”

The pope said that his message would focus on the “great figure of Christ” while with regard to secular Britain, he said that the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church shared common objectives with the British government in the fight against modern evils such as hunger, poverty, drug abuse, disease and in the pursuit of world peace.

Terence McKiernan of the organisation said Pope Benedict’s remarks attempted to minimise the culpability of church leaders for the global catastrophe rocking the church.

The remarks also indicated the pope’s continued effort to distance himself personally from the crisis: “In saying that he was shocked and saddened to learn the scope of the abuse, the pope affects the stance of a shocked bystander, when in fact he has been for decades the church’s central handler of sex abuse cases,” said Mr McKiernan

Margaret Kennedy, of the organisation Macsas (Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors), said the the church had apologised for being insufficiently fast and decisive.

But far from it being a misdemeanour of tardiness, the policy of moving clergy, putting them in new dioceses and new countries was a worldwide strategy involving sinful and criminal disregard of the normal instinct to safeguard children.


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