Pope Pleads for Forgiveness Over Abuse Scandal

By Rachel Donadio (The New York Times)
June 11, 2010

VATICAN CITY — Addressing the sex abuse crisis for the first time from the seat of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI begged forgiveness on Friday, saying the church would do "everything possible" to prevent priests from abusing children.

"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," Benedict told thousands of priests and faithful gathered in Saint Peter's Square for celebrations marking the end of the Vatican's Year of the Priest.

The pope's remarks did not substantively go beyond what he had already said in a letter to Irish Catholics in March and in a private meeting with victims of sex abuse on Malta in April, but it was the first time Benedict had mentioned the crisis from Saint Peter's Basilica, the heart of the church itself, and on an occasion focused on priests.

"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," the pope said.

He added that the church, "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." The pope did not mention any specific actions the church was planning to take to combat abuse, as some had hoped, and victims' groups said Benedict's remarks did not go far enough.

"The root cause of this horrific and on-going clergy sex abuse and cover up crisis remains the nearly limitless power of bishops," said Barbara Blaine, the president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, in a statement.

"There must be a world-wide Catholic policy against clergy sex crimes and cover ups that is widely enforced. And we still don't have it," she added.

Yet the pope's remarks on Friday seemed to signal a growing awareness of the extent of the crisis. They came weeks after the pope had said in Portugal that the greatest threat to the church came from "the sin inside the church" rather than outside., and added that "forgiveness is not a substitute for justice." The Vatican hierarchy has also begun to shift its tone. Earlier this spring, the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, dismissed media reports questioning the pope's role handling abuse as archbishop of Munich in 1980 and as prefect for the Vatican's doctrinal office as a calumnious "attack."

On Thursday, it said in a front-page editorial that, "the infidelity, even profound, of some priests in some parts of the world has in fact cast a shadow over the credibility of the church in the eyes of many people."

"The wound will take time to heal and nothing will be as if nothing had happened," it added.

"Some have called it an 'annus horribilis,' but in reality it has been a year of grace," the paper wrote, because "the seed of the priests' inner renewal that has been planted and their more incisive witness of the Gospel will bear fruit."

In Saint Peter's Square on Friday, the Rev. Innocent Jooji, a priest from Abuja, Nigeria, said he welcomed the pope's remarks on the sex abuse crisis, and wished he would say more. "This is not only the problem of the west, it is a global problem," Father Jooji said.

"He should go around to a few continents to talk about sex abuse, and the impact would be more," he added of Benedict. "It's a problem to face. We need more conversation."