Abuse Scandal Must Not Deter Would-Be Priests: Pope

By Philip Pullella
October 18, 2010

(Reuters) - Pope Benedict Monday urged men who are considering the priesthood not to be deterred by those who had brought shame and disgrace to the ministry by abusing children.

In a letter to seminarians around the world, Benedict also defended the Roman Catholic Church's rule of celibacy for its priests, which some critics have said was one of the practices that exacerbated the scandal. "Recently we have seen with great dismay that some priests disfigured their ministry by sexually abusing children and young people," he said in the letter.

"... their abusive behavior caused great damage for which we feel profound shame and regret. As a result of all this, many people, perhaps even some of you, might ask whether it is good to become a priest; whether the choice of celibacy makes any sense as a truly human way of life," he said.

Revelations about children who were sexually abused by priests over the past decades has rocked the church, particularly in the United States, Australia and several European countries.

But Benedict said "even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission, which remains great and pure," and said "a life of celibacy" was part of the mission for priests so they could dedicate themselves to God.

Benedict has several times apologized for the abuse in meetings with victims on his overseas trips and the Vatican has assured that tougher procedures have been put in place to screen out those seminarians who could become abusers as priests.

In the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, the church had to be "all the more watchful and attentive" about who should become priests and ensure that future ministers do not succumb to what he called a "banal and destructive" sexuality.

The abuse scandal has not only hurt the image of the church around the world but experts say it can also have a deterrent effect as men who feel the calling to the priesthood shy away from it because of the stain on the ministry.

The number of priests around the world is much lower than it was decades ago and is one factor in the closing or amalgamation of parishes.

Experts have sounded the alarm that there will continue to be an insufficient number of priests in the future and those who do enter the ministry will be severely overworked.

Activists say solutions to the shortage include allowing women to become priests and allowing priests to marry. The church forbids both.

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