In response to the "unimaginable" scandal of clerical sex abuse against minors, the church must reflect, repent, and do everything possible to rectify the injustices suffered by victims as it works to prevent such abuse from ever happening again, said Pope Benedict XVI. The pope said he and others were "dismayed" when, during a year dedicated to the world's priests, further cases of clerical sex abuse came to light "to a degree we could not have imagined."
"We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves," the pope said Dec. 20 in his annual pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia and cardinals who reside in Rome.
In his seven-page reflection on the past year, the pope dedicated a large part of his speech to the impact of sex abuse by priests. He said priests who committed such scandals "twist" the sacrament of ordination into its "antithesis" when they, "under the mantle of the sacred, profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime."
The face of the church is soiled and her clothes torn "because of the sins of priests," the pope said, referring to the writings of the 12th-century German mystic, St. Hildegard of Bingen, who had visions of a church wounded and sullied because of abuses by clergy evident in her day. "We are well aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our corresponding responsibility," the pope said.
He listed a number of "musts" that the church needs to attend to.
"We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen," the pope said.
The church must find "a new resoluteness in faith and doing good," it must be capable of penance, and it must strive to do everything possible in preparing future priests "to prevent anything of the kind from happening again," he said.
Amid the "great tribulations" the church has faced during the last year, he said, the Advent prayer, "Stir up your power, O Lord, and come that you may save us," often has been "on my mind and on my lips." Rather than beg Christ to wake up and deliver his disciples from a storm, it is the disciples themselves who must reawaken their own faith that has "grown tired," the pope said.
He said what needs to be restored is a faith that has "the power to move mountains, that is, to order justly the affairs of the world." As the church works to address the sex abuse crisis within its own walls, it must also tackle the larger problems of child pornography and child sex tourism in society, the pope said.
"The psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times," he said, as he lamented how child pornography is considered "more and more normal by society." Insatiable desire and "the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart, and all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines human freedom and ultimately destroys it," he said.