Benedict XVI in the United Kingdom : The scandal of pedophile priests
During his four-day visit to the United Kingdom (September 16-19), the statements made by Benedict XVI dealt more particularly with four topics: 1) the pedophile priest scandal; 2) the role of Catholics in a strongly secularized society—with a reminder about the mission of the bishops; 3) ecumenical dialogue with the Anglicans, and 4) the example given by Cardinal John Henry Newman, whom he was anxious to beatify personally.
1- The scandal of pedophile priests
In the airplane that brought him on Thursday the 16th to Edinburgh (Scotland), the first stage of his trip, the pope, in the presence of the seventy journalists who were accompanying him, again addressed the scandal of pedophile priests, telling them: “These revelations were a shock for me… a great sadness.” He then confided that it was “hard to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry [had been] possible.” “It is a great sadness,” he added, “that Church leadership was not sufficiently vigilant and sufficiently swift and decisive in taking the necessary measures.” The news agency Apic noted: “This is the first time since the Church has been shaken by this crisis that the pope acknowledged the mistakes of the ecclesiastical authorities, including that of his predecessor.”
Asked how it will be possible to “re-establish trust in the Church”, the Supreme Pontiff assured the public that “commitment in favour of the victims is the first priority,” hoping in particular that they will receive “material, psychological and spiritual assistance”. As for “those who are guilty” of acts of pedophilia, he deemed it necessary to “protect these persons from themselves” and considered “exclud[ing] them from all access to young people” to be a “just penalty” since they are afflicted by “an illness”. Finally Benedict XVI called for greater attention to “prevention through education and the selection of candidates to the priesthood”.
To the question of whether the Church can be made “more credible and attractive”, the pope replied that “a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path.” “The Church does not seek to be attractive, but rather to make herself transparent for Jesus Christ,” he emphasized.
On the morning of September 18, while celebrating Mass in the Catholic cathedral in London, Benedict XVI deplored once again the “unspeakable crimes” of pedophile priests. During his homily he referred to the large crucifix that dominates the nave of Westminster Cathedral, explaining to the 1,500 in attendance that the “passion” of Christ was continuing “in the members of his Mystical Body, the Church in every age.” Thus he alluded simultaneously to the sufferings of the victims of pedophile priests and to those of the Christian martyrs. “I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; and I invite you to offer it to the Lord with trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims, the purification of the Church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people,” the pope declared. He then expressed his “gratitude for the efforts being made to address this problem responsibly”, asking the faithful “to show [their] concern for the victims and solidarity with [their] priests”.
During the afternoon of that same day, the pope privately received a group of victims of priestly pedophilia at the Apostolic Nunciature in London. According to the BBC television network, there were five of them and the meeting lasted around forty minutes.
Then, before going to Hyde Park for the prayer vigil, the pope met at St. Peter’s Retreat House with several Church officials in charge of child protection. This was the first time that the pope had a meeting with those responsible for such programs. He told them: “It is deplorable that, in such marked contrast to the Church’s long tradition of care for them, children have suffered abuse and mistreatment at the hands of some priests and religious…. While there are never grounds for complacency,” Benedict XVI added, “credit should be given where it is due: the efforts of the Church in this country and elsewhere, especially in the last ten years, to guarantee the safety of children and young people and to show them every respect as they grow to maturity, should be acknowledged.” The Supreme Pontiff emphasized that his listeners are helping “to ensure that the preventative measures put in place are effective, that they are maintained with vigilance, and that any allegations of abuse are dealt with swiftly and justly.”
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Solution to the crisis, according to Cardinal Newman