Catholic World News

Bishops' response to abuse was inadequate, Pope concedes

September 16, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI admitted that the Catholic hierarchy had not responded promptly and effectively to the sex-abuse crisis, during a question-and-answer session with reporters as he flew to Great Britain to begin his state visit on September 16.

"It's sad that Church authorities were not sufficiently vigilant, fast and decisive to take the necessary measures,” the Pope said in answer to a question about the scandal. As a result, he said, “we are in a moment of penitence.” The Pope’s comment, delivered in response to one of several questions posed by reporters, represented his clearest admission to date that Catholic bishops had failed to perform their pastoral duties in dealing with abusive priests. He said that the scandal has been “a shock to me, not only a great sadness.” And he repeated the suggestion that he had made to the Irish bishops that acts of penitence would be appropriate.

Pope Benedict assured reporters, however, that he is not concerned about the public opposition that he will face in Great Britain. “I must say that I’m not worried,” he said. He reminded journalists that he had been warned of opposition from the secular establishment during previous foreign travels, especially in France and the Czech Republic. “So Western countries, all have, each in their own specific way, according to their own history, strong anticlerical or anti-Catholic currents, but they always also have a strong presence of faith,” he said. While acknowledging that anti-Catholicism has a long history in Britain, he added that it “is also a country with a great history of tolerance.”

Questioned about what the Church could do to be “more credible and attractive to everyone,” the Holy Father replied that the question might be based on a misunderstanding of the Church’s mission. He said:

I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power. The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths and great forces of love, reconciling love that appeared in this figure and that always comes from the presence of Jesus Christ.

Finally the Pope took a question about the importance of Cardinal John Henry Newman, whose beatification will be the high point of his visit. He characterized Newman as “a modern man who took on all the problems of modernity.” Expanding on that point, he said that the faith of Cardinal Newman is a model for today because it “is not a faith in the formulas of a bygone age, it is a most personal form of faith, lived, suffered, found through a long process of renewal and conversion.”

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  • Posted by: Gil125 - Sep. 16, 2010 3:25 PM ET USA

    What a great answer to the make-the-Church attractive question! Demonstrating once again that we Ratizingerites ahead of the conclave were right. Or that the Holy Spirit was.