.- In an often personal letter to the worldâs seminarians, Pope Benedict XVI said the recently surfaced scandals of priest sexual abuse âcannot discredit the priestly mission, which remains great and pure.â
His letter to men training for the priesthood was issued Oct. 18 to mark the close of the special âYear for Priests,â that ended in June.
The Pope compared the âdifficult timesâ of today with the climate in the final months of Nazi regime in Germany when he was a young man. He recalled that when he was drafted for military service in December 1944, the commander asked him about his plans for the future.
âI answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest,â the Pope said. âThe lieutenant replied, âThen you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany priests are no longer needed.ââ
The Pope said he knew then, just months before Hitlerâs death and the Nazi surrender, that after âthe enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever.â
Today too, he said, men studying for the priesthood face skepticism that their ministry is no longer needed in a new age âmarked by technical mastery of the world and globalization.â
For many, âthe Catholic priesthood is not a 'job' for the future, but one that belongs more to the past,â he said.
But that is not true, Pope Benedict said. âYou have done a good thing,â in entering seminary, he told the future priests.
âBecause people will always have need of God â¦ They will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the universal Church in order to learn with him and through him lifeâs true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity.â
The Popeâs letter included a detailed and often personal exhortation to seminarians on the role of the priesthood and the spiritual maturity that it requires.
The priest must first and foremost be a âman of God,â who is willing to grow in self-knowledge and âhumilityâ through prayer, the Pope said. He encouraged the seminarians to cultivate an âinner closenessâ with Jesus through the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Penance.
This sacrament is vitally important to the spiritual formation of priests, he said.
âIt teaches me to see myself as God sees me, and it forces me to be honest with myself â¦â the Pope said. âMoreover, by letting myself be forgiven, I learn to forgive others. In recognizing my own weakness, I grow more tolerant and understanding of the failings of my neighbor.â
The Pope also urged seminarians to foster âthe right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul, and to be humanly integrated.â
âThis also involves the integration of sexuality into the whole personality,â he said. âSexuality is a gift of the Creator yet it is also a task which relates to a personâs growth towards human maturity. When it is not integrated within the person, sexuality becomes banal and destructive.â
âRecently we have seen with great dismay that some priests disfigured their ministry by sexually abusing children and young people,â the Pope added. âInstead of guiding people to greater human maturity and setting them an example, their abusive behavior caused great damage for which we feel profound shame and regret.â
âYet even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission,â Pope Benedict stressed, âwhich remains great and pure.â