Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pope Benedict marks end of Year for Priests; begs forgiveness for priest abuse victims; recognizes "summons to purification"

In his address at the papal Mass on the feast of the Sacred Heart that marked the end of the Year for Priests (see link to full text), Pope Benedict XVI drew specific attention to the scandal of priestly abuse:
It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the "enemy"; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers.

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican before a mass on June 11, 2010 with some 15,000 priests marking the end of the Roman Catholic Church's Year for Priests. Source: Getty Images

Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in "earthen vessels" which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility. The word of God, which we have sung in the Entrance Antiphon of today’s liturgy, can speak to us, at this hour, of what it means to become and to be a priest: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29).

Pope Benedict celebrated the mass with a sea of 15,000 white-vested priests filling St. Peter's Square -- reportedly the Eucharistic celebration with the greatest number of concelebrants in the history of the Catholic Church.

More from the Catholic News Service:
The priests and bishops, who turned St. Peter's Square into a sea of white albs and stoles, were well aware of the scandal and of the shadow of doubt it cast over the Catholic priesthood.

But, the pope said, the scandal should make priests grow "in gratitude for God's gift, a gift concealed in 'earthen vessels' which, ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world."

"Let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification," the pope said. He then led the priests in the solemn renewal of their priestly promises to be faithful ministers of Christ, working not for their own interests, but for the good of all men and women.

Father Paul Daly, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Heywood, England, said, "I think the pope was spot on" in saying the Year for Priests was about thanksgiving and renewal, not shouting the glories of the priesthood.

"It wasn't a triumphalistic celebration, but was calm and reflective," he said.

Further reflections on Benedict's address

... and the media's reaction to the apology