Apr 15, 2010

Pope Benedict Recognizes Need for Penance

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

This is a step in the right direction.

Pope Benedict said on Thursday the sexual abuse scandal shaking Roman Catholicism showed the Church needed to do penance for its sins, in a rare public reference by the pope to pedophilia in the priesthood.

"Now, under attack from the world which talks to us of our sins, we can see that being able to do penance is a grace and we see how necessary it is to do penance and thus recognize what is wrong in our lives," the said pope at a mass in the Vatican.

This involved "opening oneself up to forgiveness, preparing oneself for forgiveness, allowing oneself to be transformed," said the pope, whose last public utterance on the scandal was his letter to the Irish people, made public on March 20.

But you have to wonder why it takes an "attack from the world" for his Holiness to recognize that the church needs to acknowledge its "sins." It implies an appalling lack of introspection.

BBC News has an analysis of the Vatican's poor media campaign. To sum up, the Church's communication has been entirely reactive, rather than proactive. Church officials have come off as defensive; shifting blame to the media, to gays, to Jews... to everyone but themselves. This is what I've been saying from the beginning. The lack of personal responsibility from Catholic leaders, including the Pope, has been sickening. Whom would Jesus blame? According to Christian teaching, Jesus took on the sin of the entire world and died for it; the whole world. The Catholic Church has been unable to take responsibility for rapists and torturers in their own employ. And they remain unable to even admit that they have enabled these abusers by concealing their crimes from the public and by shuffling them from diocese to diocese.

In an investigation spanning 21 countries across six continents, The Associated Press found 30 cases of priests accused of abuse who were transferred or moved abroad. Some escaped police investigations. Many had access to children in another country, and some abused again.

A priest who admitted to abuse in Los Angeles went to the Philippines, where U.S. church officials mailed him checks and advised him not to reveal their source. A priest in Canada was convicted of sexual abuse and then moved to France, where he was convicted of abuse again in 2005. Another priest was moved back and forth between Ireland and England, despite being diagnosed as a pederast, a man who commits sodomy with boys.

"The pattern is if a priest gets into trouble and it's close to becoming a scandal or if the law might get involved, they send them to the missions abroad," said Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and critic of what he says is a practice of international transfers of accused and admitted priest child abusers. "Anything to avoid a scandal."

What we've heard from apologists is that the Church is now a model for how to handle abuse; that Pope Benedict has been vigilant in going after abusers and cleaning up the process by which these cases are handled. That may be true. I hope so. But it doesn't absolve the Catholic Church for past abuses. What we've all heard far too little of is full-throated apology. I sincerely hope this statement from the Pope marks a turning point in how the Vatican and other officials communicate on this issue.

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