March 11, 2004 | 0 comments
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This week, the Pope has used his voice to recognize the terrible cost of the sexual abuse crisis in this country: most of all to victims, but also to the entire Church.
On the plane, in answer to Allen’s question, Benedict used the word “shame” in relation to the scandal, then briefly outlined the areas in which the Church should act: juridically, pastorally, and in relation to seminary screening and formation.
The emphasis on victims came through very clearly in Wednesday’s speech to the U.S. bishops, when Benedict said that it was their “God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.”
JUST WORDS? Not at all, if you consider the priorities of various dioceses in the past. Showing compassion and care to victims has not always topped the list, which is exactly the reason we are where we are. Benedict reminded the bishops not only that this was most important, but that it was what God — you know, God — expected of them.
In the earlier days of these scandals, we were reassured that those in charge were trying to respond to the concerns of the faithful on this score, and that they were listening to us. Frankly, I never really cared if they were listening to me. I just thought they should try listening to Christ.
Speaking of Christ, he came up, too. Benedict told the bishops that their lives should be Christ-centered and prayerful, devoted to the virtues and holiness.
In saying this, Benedict isn’t tossing out self-help platitudes or suggesting magic formulas that make suffering and complexity disappear. Rather, he’s saying that in addition to other concrete efforts, Christ-centered bishops should foster holiness in priests, and when sins are committed, they tend to victims first. First. First.
Thursday, during his homily at Mass at Nationals Park, he brought the subject up to those gathered and, by extension, to Catholics across the country. First, once again, were victims. And only after that did he ask them to “love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do.”
And finally, Thursday afternoon, in a surprise move, Benedict met with five victims who were escorted to their meeting by Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston.
NO, BENEDICT DIDN’T take anyone publicly to the woodshed. He didn’t lay out any canonical or structural issues. Those things are important, but they are also not the stuff of homilies and press conferences.
Here in the U.S., Benedict spoke as a pastor, laying it out plainly before all of us, including the bishops, not only by his words but by his actions.
Time after time, we hear that in the beginning, victims of abuse asked something simple of bishops: Meet with us. Listen to our stories. Help us.
How many bishops were asked to do this, how many times? And how often did they refuse?
This week, one bishop said “Yes.”
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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