Benedict Apologizes Again

As he had on his trip to the United States in April, Pope Benedict XVI addressed reporters on his recent flight to Sydney, Australia, about the sex abuse crisis in the country that he is about to visit.  Once again, even before landing, he takes up the issue—of particular import as he begins the celebration of World Youth Day.  The Associated Press reported: “The leader of the church told reporters during a 20-hour flight to Australia for a nine-day visit starting Sunday that he would do everything possible to achieve ‘healing and reconciliation with the victims’ of maltreatment by priests….’just as I did in the United States.’” 

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Not surprisingly, his comments raised expectations that he may meet with victims.  (His extraordinary meeting, arranged by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, with victims of abuse in the Boston archdiocese, remain for many the most powerful moment of a momentous trip.)  Also, in response to his comments, victims advocates in have called for “action, not words,” as AP reports.

All this points out that the sexual abuse crisis is not “over,” as some have said, and as some have hoped.  A wound so deep will take many years, perhaps even decades, to heal, and like any deep wound there will be a scar.  And the first step in the process of forgiveness means that someone must apologize.  Benedict seems to understand this better than some bishops, who were slow to apologize, and some who still believe that the crisis was largely a media creation, or a manifestation of “anti-Catholicism.”  Of course, as victims rights group say, actions must follow the apologies, and the bishops have taken steps to do so, beginning with their meeting in Dallas in 2002.  

But to my mind, with this issue, there is no such thing as “too much” apologizing, as there is no such thing as “too much” reconciliation.   Forgiving “seventy times seven,” as Jesus said, may necessitate apologizing “seventy times seven.”  

James Martin, SJ

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10 years ago
I'm not sure what the pope means about doing everything possible to make sure this stops in America, and then doing absolutely nothing except apologizing. He DID nothing here in the States. His nice words were just that - nice words. It would be like me killing someone and telling their families, "I'm sorry." Empty words which mean nothing to the family. I am still waiting to see what the pope will actually DO. I'm not holding my breath, though.
10 years ago
Re: proportionalism as the "root" of pedophilia. First, I can't imagine any Catholic moral theologians, even "proportionalists" approving of pedophilia. Proportionalism, as I understand it, is a school of moral theology that seeks to incorporate the context of the environment into a moral decision. In these cases, quite obviously, the context of the crime of pedophilia would necessarily take into account the lifelong damage done to the minor, and would therefore reject pedophilia as, obviously, immoral. Second, I can't imagine priests reading a proportionalist text and then deciding to abuse a child as a result. (The same argument was made against "liberal" Catholicism during the height of the abuse scandal, as if attending a Voice of the Faithful meeting made one a pedophile.) While the priest's overall environment (loneliness, access to minors, etc.) can contribute to the incidence of pedophilia it is, at heart, a psychological problem deeply rooted in a person's sexual and emotional makeup. (See Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea's book, "Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims.") Also, many of the bishops who reassigned these pedophiles, shuttling them from parish to parish, were orthodox prelates who took a dim view of proportionalism. Ironically, those who attested that the crisis was primarily about "fidelity" failed to see that many of the bishops who were directly responsible for the crisis were appointed precisely because of their "fidelity" to doctrine. (Was there any bishop more "orthodox" than Cardinal Bernard Law?) If anyone was using "context" to their advantage, it was these bishops, whose "context" was their own security. Moral theologians, as I see it, are not to blame; the bishops who reassigned these men are.
10 years ago
The really great thing is that the Holy Father analyses exactly the roots of the crisis. He declared verbatim: "We have to reflect on what was insufficient in our education, in our teaching in recent decades. There was, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, the idea of proportionalism in ethics: it held that nothing is bad in itself, but only in proportion to others. With proportionalism, it was possible to think for some subjects – one could also be paedophilia – that in some proportion they could be a good thing. Now, it must be stated clearly, this was never Catholic doctrine. There are things which are always bad." Remember the reaction of some theologians to Veritatis Splendor? That's it.
10 years ago
The Holy Father must do more than apologize, although it is a start. Two bishops of Palm Beach FL have confessed to abusing young males but neither has been removed from the priesthood nor excommunicated. Bishops that continually moved abusive priests to protect the institutional church should be removed. These I bellieve are actions that will makes PBXVI words have hope for the victims and their famalies

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