WASHINGTON: Pope Benedict yesterday chided Americans for a moral breakdown he said had fuelled the church’s child sex abuse scandal, as he addressed the paedophile priest scandal that has rocked the US church.
In a speech to US Catholic bishops, the pontiff berated the bishops for their poor handling of a scandal surrounding sexual abuse of children in the church.
But he urged efforts “to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores” as well as a reassessment of “the values underpinning society.”
“What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?” the pontiff said on the first full day of his US visit.
“Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today.”
Describing clerics who sexually abuse children as “gravely immoral,” the octogenarian Pope warned that the scourge of paedophilia “is found not only in your dioceses but in every sector of society.” “It calls for a determined, collective response,” he said, but did not outline any firm action that the Vatican intended to take to purge the church of paedophile priests.
At the first public Mass of his US pilgrimage at the National Park stadium in Washington, he however, praised the United States as a land of opportunity and hope, though he lamented that the America’s promise fell short for Indians and blacks.
Hope for the future, he said, “is very much a part of the American character.”
Tens of thousands of worshippers filled a stadium on a clear spring day and cheered Benedict as he arrived in a white popemobile, standing in the back and waving. A crowd of 46,000 was expected, and the demand for tickets doubled the supply, organisers said.
The Pope, wearing scarlet vestments, led the service from an altar erected in the middle of the recently inaugurated baseball stadium. Rows of red-robed church leaders joined him. In brilliant spring sunshine, the pope walked down from the altar to distribute Holy Communion near the end of Mass.
“Americans have always been a people of hope,” he said during his homily. “Your ancestors came to this country with the experience of finding new freedom and opportunity.”
The US Catholic church plunged into its worst crisis in 200 years in 2002 when the archbishop of Boston confessed he had protected a priest who had sexually abused young members of his church – opening a floodgate of thousands of similar abuse cases around the country dating back decades.
Benedict angered victim support groups by praising the bishops’ efforts to heal the wounds from the scandal.
“The Pope continues to stand behind his men – the bishops who conceal clergy sex crimes,” said a Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests member, Joelle Casteix.
Pope ‘obstructed’ sex abuse inquiry
Confidential letter reveals Ratzinger ordered bishops to keep allegations secret