This morning the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed “profound gratitude” for the assistance that Pope Benedict XVI has given the bishops in their “efforts to respond to victims, deal with perpetrators and to create safe environments for children.” The statement comes in the midst of numerous media reports attempting to link the Pope to mishandling of sex abuse cases.
The bishops opened their March 30 statement by saying that “the recent emergence of more reports of sexual abuse by clergy saddens and angers the Church and causes us shame.” If “there is anywhere that children should be safe, it should be in their homes and in the Church,” the bishops said.
The latest reports of sexual abuse to surface have come from Europe and have been accompanied by attempts, both in Europe and the U.S., to connect the mishandling of the abusive priests to Pope Benedict.
In today's statement, the American bishops came to the Pope's defense, stating, “(w)e know from our experience how Pope Benedict is deeply concerned for those who have been harmed by sexual abuse and how he has strengthened the Church's response to victims and supported our efforts to deal with perpetrators.”
“We continue to intensify our efforts to provide safe environments for children in our parishes and schools,” the statement added. “Further, we work with others in our communities to address the prevalence of sexual abuse in the larger society.”
Citing an example of the Pope's commitment to the healing of sex abuse victims within the Church, the bishops recalled how one “of the most touching moments of the Holy Father’s visit to the United States in 2008 was his private conversation with victims/survivors at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington.”
“Pope Benedict heard firsthand how sexual abuse has devastated lives. The Holy Father spoke with each person and provided every one time to speak freely to him. They shared their painful experiences and he listened, often clasping their hands and responding tenderly and reassuringly.”
The U.S. bishops also underscored how “the support of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI” has allowed them make a “vigorous commitment to do everything in our power to prevent abuse from happening to children.”
After the sex abuse scandal wracked the Church in the U.S., the bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002 at a meeting in Dallas. The charter calls on the Church to “respond with compassion to victims/survivors, to work diligently to screen those working with children and young people in the Church, to provide child abuse awareness and prevention education, to report suspected abuse to civil law enforcement, and to account for our efforts to protect children and youth through an external annual national audit,” the bishops noted.
The bishops concluded their remarks in Tuesday's statement by saying that as “we accompany Christ in His passion and death during this Holy Week, we stand with our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in prayer for the victims of sexual abuse, for the entire Church and for the world.”