Pope says sexual abuse caused indescribable pain
By Philip Pullella and Andy Sullivan Reuters - Thursday, April 17 09:59 pm
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, celebrating a stadium Mass for 45,000 people, acknowledged on Thursday that the U.S. paedophile priests scandal caused “indescribable pain and harm” to victims but asked Roman Catholics to love their pastors.
For the third consecutive day of his trip to the United States, Benedict mentioned the scandal that rocked the Church in 2002 and cost U.S. dioceses $2 billion in damages, demonstrating his resolve to deal with the issue and make sure it does not happen again.
“No words of mine can describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse,” he said in the sermon of a Mass at Washington’s brand-new Nationals Park.
Advertisements flanking the scoreboard were covered by U.S flags. A large yellow and white papal flag fluttered in left field and a papal seal covered home plate as the pope spoke from a towering white and gold altar platform in centre field.
“It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church,” said Benedict, who arrived in Washington on Tuesday on his first visit to the United States as pontiff.
He said great efforts had been made to deal “honestly and fairly” with the aftermath of the scandal, which broke when it was discovered that priests who abused children were transferred, not defrocked or turned over to police.
The pope asked U.S. Catholics to foster healing and reconciliation. “Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do,” he said.
The Church’s position has always been that a tiny number of priests—far under one percent—were abusers, while the overwhelming majority were faithful to their vocation.
“I think its good that he brought that sexual thing out,” said Henry Woltz of Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, who attended the stadium Mass.
VICTIMS DEMAND ACTION
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, issued a statement before the Mass, saying they wanted more action from the pope.
“Despite twice making brief remarks about the church’s on-going child sex abuse and cover up scandal, we’ve still seen no action. Not one child is safer today because of what the pope said,” said Barbara Dorris of SNAP.
Bill Fay, a Catholic from Rockville, Maryland, who attended the Mass, said the scandal had not shaken his faith and that he had kept children in Catholic schools. But he was critical of the way the Church handled the crisis.
“They did a fairly good job of attempting to sweep it under the rug,” he said.
The Mass gave Washington a chance to show off its new $611-million baseball field, which opened two weeks ago.
Some 300 priests distributed communion to tens of thousands of faithful in just 20 minutes. The event included four choirs totalling 570 singers, as well as opera star Placido Domingo, who sang “Panis Angelicus” in Latin. At the end, the pope went into the crowd to shake hands.
In his sermon, the pope again praised U.S. society but said not everyone had gotten a piece of the American dream.
“To be sure, this promise was not experienced by all the inhabitants of this land; one thinks of the injustices endured by the native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves,” he said.
He also lamented “clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society: signs of alienation, anger and polarization on the part of many of our contemporaries; increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations and a growing forgetfulness of God.”
Later on Thursday Benedict, who turned 81 on Wednesday and was feted at the White House, was to address heads of Catholic universities and schools and meet leaders of other religions.
He goes to New York on Friday to address the United Nations, visit the site where the World Trade Centre was destroyed in the September 11 attacks and say a mass at Yankee Stadium. He returns to Rome on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan; editing by Patricia Zengerle)
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