Pope highlights UK visit, clerical sex abuse in 'state of the Church' address

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI


Pope Benedict XVI gave what's considered the “state of the Church” address on Monday, highlighting his visit to the U.K., the Middle East synod, and the task of  combating child sex abuse within the Church and in the world at large.

On Dec. 20, the Pope addressed the College of Cardinals and representatives of the Roman Curia, at the annual gathering which reviews significant events of the year and gives status updates on the Church.

The pontiff opened his remarks by reflecting on the Year for Priests – a prayer initiative he launched in June of 2009 – saying that there was a “great joy” and a “renewed awareness” within the Church of the beauty and gift of the priesthood.

“We were all the more dismayed, then, when in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests,” he said.

Priests who perpetrate sex abuse “twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.”

Pope Benedict noted that the Church “must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal,” emphasizing the need “to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred.”

He said that penance, reformed priestly formation and the resolution to “ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen” are key in addressing clerical sex abuse within the Church.

Although he acknowledged the “gravity” of abuse being committed by priests, he noted that the Church cannot remain silent “regarding the context of these times in which these events have come to light.”

That context includes the global problems of child pornography and sex trafficking as well as the “psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times,” he said.

Pope Benedict then discussed the Synod for the Middle East – a gathering of bishops in October that examined the problems Catholics face in the region. This synod revealed the need to fight against “Christianophobia,” he underscored.

In the Middle East today, “Christians are the most oppressed and tormented minority,” he said.

Although for “centuries they lived peacefully together with their Jewish and Muslim neighbors,” the Pope described how in “the turmoil of recent years, the tradition of peaceful coexistence has been shattered and tensions and divisions have grown.”

He noted that these divisions have caused increased violence “in which there is no longer any respect for what the other holds sacred, in which on the contrary the most elementary rules of humanity collapse.”

The bishops' synod worked to address these problems by developing a “concept of dialogue, forgiveness and mutual acceptance, a concept that we now want to proclaim to the world.”
“The human being is one, and humanity is one,” the Pope stressed. “Whatever damage is done to another in any one place, ends up by damaging everyone.”

“Thus the words and ideas of the Synod must be a clarion call, addressed to all people with political or religious responsibility, to put a stop to Christianophobia,” he said. Everyone in a position of authority must “rise up in defense of refugees and all who are suffering, and to revitalize the spirit of reconciliation.”

During his speech, the Pope also mentioned his “unforgettable” trip to the U.K in September, highlighting his historic visit to Westminster Abbey and the beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman.

He called his visit an “encounter with the world of culture,” saying that the Church made its presence known in the debate over the “question of faith and truth itself.”

The Pope emphasized that laws and policies in a given society can only function if there is a moral consensus that transcends “individuals denominations” and unites everyone. 

He warned of modern society's trend to “eclipse” moral reasoning, and stressed the need to “preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true.”

This, he added, “is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.”

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