An idea whose time has come

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes speaks at a news conference at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo in 2006 after Pope Benedict XVI named him head of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy. (CNS/Reuters)When Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes (left) recently launched a worldwide prayer campaign to seek spiritual reparation for priestly sexual abuse, it rang a bell.

A quick search of our files showed that Cardinal John P. Foley made a similar proposal back in 2002, when the accusations and revelations of abuse were building to a full-fledged scandal.

Here’s what we reported in a couple of stories at the time:

Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said the real tragedy of clerical sex abuse is not the embarrassment caused to the church, but the grave offense against God and children. Speaking in Philadelphia … he said he suggested to Pope John Paul that the church declare a period of prayer and reparation for the “tragic moral flaws” revealed in the lives of some priests. (Full story here.)

And:

“In this time of great tragedy for the church, I have suggested to the highest authority that the three days before Holy Thursday, which is the day on which we recall the institution of the priesthood, be dedicated to reparation and to prayer for the sanctification of priests,” he said. (Full story here.)

Archbishop Foley’s idea didn’t go anywhere at the time. Or at least it didn’t seem to — the path of Vatican initiatives is often circuitous and lengthy.

Today, nearly six years later, much has changed. The Vatican has had ample time to reflect on the damage caused by sex abuse. There is a new pope, of course, and more to the point there is a new head of the Congregation for Clergy in Cardinal Hummes.

His predecessor, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, will be remembered by many journalists for refusing to answer questions about sex abuse during a Vatican press conference in March 2002 — a week after Archbishop Foley made his proposal of churchwide prayer.

PHOTO: Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes speaks at a news conference at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo in 2006 after Pope Benedict XVI named him head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy. (CNS/Reuters)

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