Pope: Sex abuse scandal didn’t ruin Year for Priests

VATICAN CITY — Celebrating the closing Mass for the Year for Priests this morning, Pope Benedict highlighted the crucial role of the priesthood in modern times and begged forgiveness for clerical sexual abuse, saying it was a call to purification.

In his homily, the pope began by underlining a point he has repeatedly stressed, that the priesthood is not just another job:

The priest is not a mere office-holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions. Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ’s name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life.

He said the sex abuse scandal requires repentance and strict measures to prevent such sins in the future. But the scandal did not ruin the Year for Priests, he said:

Together with the whole Church we wanted to make clear once again that we have to ask God for this vocation. We have to beg for workers for God’s harvest, and this petition to God is, at the same time, his own way of knocking on the hearts of young people who consider themselves able to do what God considers them able to do. It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the “enemy”; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers. Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in “earthen vessels” which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God.

The pope said priests must be aware that for many people today, God is no longer a focus of their lives:

There was still a recognition that the world presupposes a Creator. Yet this God, after making the world, had evidently withdrawn from it. The world itself had a certain set of laws by which it ran, and God did not, could not, intervene in them. God was only a remote cause. Many perhaps did not even want God to look after them. They did not want God to get in the way. But wherever God’s loving concern is perceived as getting in the way, human beings go awry. It is fine and consoling to know that there is someone who loves me and looks after me. But it is far more important that there is a God who knows me, loves me and is concerned about me. “I know my own and my own know me” (Jn 10:14), the Church says before the Gospel with the Lord’s words. God knows me, he is concerned about me. This thought should make us truly joyful. Let us allow it to penetrate the depths of our being. Then let us also realize what it means: God wants us, as priests, in one tiny moment of history, to share his concern about people. As priests, we want to be persons who share his concern for men and women, who take care of them and provide them with a concrete experience of God’s concern. Whatever the field of activity entrusted to him, the priest, with the Lord, ought to be able to say: “I know my sheep and mine know me”.

Sometimes, he said, the priest must protect his flock with “rod and staff”:

“Your rod and your staff – they comfort me”: the shepherd needs the rod as protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey. Along with the rod there is the staff which gives support and helps to make difficult crossings. Both of these are likewise part of the Church’s ministry, of the priest’s ministry. The Church too must use the shepherd’s rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray. The use of the rod can actually be a service of love. Today we can see that it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated. Nor does it have to do with love if heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented. As if it were no longer God’s gift, the precious pearl which we cannot let be taken from us. Even so, the rod must always become once again the shepherd’s staff – a staff which helps men and women to tread difficult paths and to follow the Lord.

He ended by asking priests to bring waters of life to a thirsty world:

Every Christian and every priest should become, starting from Christ, a wellspring which gives life to others. We ought to be offering life-giving water to a parched and thirsty world. Lord, we thank you because for our sake you opened your heart; because in your death and in your resurrection you became the source of life. Give us life, make us live from you as our source, and grant that we too may be sources, wellsprings capable of bestowing the water of life in our time. We thank you for the grace of the priestly ministry. Lord bless us, and bless all those who in our time are thirsty and continue to seek. Amen.

7 Responses

  1. What a silly title… the abuse sure ruined the year for me and for others disgusted with the nonsense in the Church. It also ruined the year for those abused as well. It ruined the year for faithful priests who are slandered for their calling… fire whoever put this title on this summary of the pope’s words please!

  2. As I read the words of our Pope Benedict XVI about the special call of the priestly vocation and about the importance of celibacy, I think back to the 1960s when I was in premedical studies at a university in Chicago. There was so much enthusiasm then among Catholics.

    The Second Vatican Council was taking place in Rome. We lay people were being told that “We are the Church” and that all the faithful belong to the “Priesthood of Christ”.

    Jesus came to serve. Jesus worked in the world. He did not escape from the world. He wanted His followers to be in the world and to help to transform the world by our love for one another in Him.

    We all have “the call” to be Christ in our world to others.

    As a physician studying part-time for the Masters in Divinity and Masters in Spirituality Degrees, I am very sad to see that my Church is going backwards rather than forwards.

    Vatican II was nearly 50 years ago!

    We need priests and yet, the Pope and the Curia will not allow priests back into the active priesthood who left the priesthood only because they fell in love with a woman and married. There are many men in that situation who would add to the Church greatly if they were allowed back into the active priesthood. Why are the Pope and Curia not allowing this to happen?

    To me, celibacy is a major way for our Roman Catholic Church to control the lives of people and to even stunt those lives at times.

    Celibacy is a mandate in the Roman Catholic Church, not in the Greek Catholic Church. Roman Catholic priests who are married are so by exception.

    The worldwide sexual abuse crisis caused by priests is forcing us to face certain facts of life.

    The unhealthy polarity of the sexes promoted for centuries by the Roman Catholic Church has created a very unhealthy situation in the Roman Catholic Church.

    To my understanding, the polarity of the sexes and the philosophic view that the body is bad and the spirit is good came from the ancient Greeks and definitely not from Jesus.

    Priests, even bishops in some Christian faiths, are allowed to choose whether to be celibate or to share their life and love of God with a woman in marriage.
    This was even true in the first 300 years of the Christian Church before it was the state religion of Rome under Constantine in the fourth century.

    The Roman Catholic Church would be a healthier church if it allowed priests to have the choice to marry, if they so desired.

    The man-made rule of not being able to re-marry if their wife dies must be changed to allow the priests or bishops the freedom to marry whenever they choose to, and not be blocked from doing so, by a church rule.

    If a priest or bishop is left with children when his wife dies, it is common sense that he should have the freedom to marry again, if he so chooses.

    Life is a journey and it takes many years to grow to maturity. One wonders if some priests will have the opportunity of truly becoming adults, especially if they go into studies for the priesthood before they are mature men and before they have had the opportunity to interact with women, the other 50% of the world’s population.

    The only voices we hear in the Roman Catholic Church are those of the celibate men in the Vatican. Jesus listened to people and worked with people and helped people to find their voices. I pray that the Pope and the Curia will begin to listen to the voices of all the faithful and start to have a Council of all the faithful soon and regularly.

    I agree with the Council of Constance that we need to have a Council of the whole Church about every 5 years. I think that is the best way that we can stay relevant in this world of ours. To have frequent councils is an important way for all of the faithful to have a voice in our Church. It is also a way for us lay people to exercise our reality that we are active participants in the Body of Christ.

    The special priestly vocation of serving God’s people can be done as a celibate and as a married person. The Roman Catholic Church would be wise to respect the freedom of the individual to discern whether celibacy or sharing the love of a woman in marriage is the path that God is personally calling the person to, instead of mandating celibacy.

    I believe that we Roman Catholics have to get back to our roots and focus on Jesus and His simple life and message. I would love to see Councils held in Galilee rather than in the Vatican in Rome.

    In Galilee, there is simplicity. We Roman Catholics need to become more simple and Christ like and shed the power and control and wealth of Rome.

    Sincerely yours,
    Rosemary Eileen McHugh, M.D.

  3. The Nuns/Sisters are celibate to. There is nothing wrong with this sacrifice.

    Rosemary God Bless but next chance you get check out Father Corapi and EWTN.

  4. The Year of the Priest did take a knock, I think it is naive to think otherwise. Certainly the moral authority of the church has taken a hammer and it has in the process lost much integerity. The Irish Bishops have at least acknowledged this point.

    The abuses in the church are not new, throughout her history, the church has in many periods lost perspective due to its appetite for power and wealth. Reformations and Councils throughout its history through the Holy Spirit call the church back to living the Gospel.

    If we learn anything from this experience, it is a reminder that our human sexuality is a gift and we have the freedom to use this gift as a weapon or to bring life and love to this world.

    The debates about the devil or homosexuality or the evils of modern society are distractions and it levels the argument into the “blame others” game.

    What is required of all Catholic is that we have to own and acknowledge this aspect of our community. All Catholics / Christian have to make a concerted effort to study/ understand and know how to live whole integrated sexual lives irrespective of whether we choose live the religious celibate life, single or married life.

  5. As a physician, I am disappointed in CNS ignoring my comments on the way we could have a healthier Roman Catholic Church if mandatory celibacy ended and if priests had the freedom to marry, if they so chose.

    Instead, after my name on the brief website, you put the comments of another person who was for mandatory celibacy!

    Disappointed in CNS, Rosemary McHugh, M.D.

  6. Not sure I understand what happened here. Perhaps WordPress treated your comment as spam, in which case we never saw it. (WordPress has an odd track record of spam filtering, but there are so many comments that it does catch that it would take too much time to go through each one.) In any case, our apologies. We want this to be an open forum, even for those who disagree with non-doctrinal church teachings.

  7. Hold on — now I see that your comment is indeed printed above. I’m not sure what you mean when you say CNS ignored your comment.

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