| April 23, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI Addresses Sex Scandal
by Mike McManus
WASHINGTON - Pope Benedict XVI deeply touched American Catholics on his
first papal visit to the United States and moved many Protestants as
At Nationals Park, a baseball field converted into an open air cathedral
I asked Mary Ellen, why she and her grown daughter arose at 3 a.m in
Wilmington, Del. to drive to the Mass. "It was the opportunity of a
lifetime," she exulted.
Anticipating heavy security, with electronic detectors and searches of
every bag, people arrived two hours early, but were entertained by a 400
voice choir and orchestra projected on a huge screen. The joy of the
crowd erupted when the "popemobile" made a slow circle around the field,
with everyone waving yellow and white papal flags, shouting "We love
you! Viva Papa!"
Judy Parejko traveled from Wisconsin to be "with more than 40,000
members of my family. We couldn't control ourselves. Whenever he
gestured, we responded with a roar of joy.
Being there was like a taste of the divine - being with so many others
praising God and celebrating Mass together - the ultimate love feast."
Benedict had one central goal - to frontally address and help heal the
church's major psychic wound stemming from the scandal of 5,000 priests
having molested at least 12,000 children. More than $2 billion has been
paid to victims. Five dioceses declared bankruptcy - San Diego, Tucson,
Spokane, Portland, OR, Davenport, IA. With an acute shortage of
priests, 1,000 churches have closed even though America's largest
denomination has grown to 67.5 million.
The Pope began to focus on the scandal as flew to America, telling
reporters on the plane, "I am deeply ashamed, and we will do what is
possible so this cannot happen again in the future."
In his homily at Nationals Park, Benedict asserted, "No words of mine
could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is
important that those who have suffered be given loving and pastoral
attention." He made similar comments at four other public events.
However, his most important gesture was a privat, unannounced meeting
with a half dozen victims selected by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop
of Boston. No cameras were present. However, three of the victims told
CNN how awed they were by the experience.
Olan Horne traveled to Rome in 2003 hoping to meet with the Pope.
However, no abuse survivors had ever met with the Pope until last week.
Therefore Horne saw the encounter with Benedict as "a very, very
important step. We were very lucky to have what was an unscripted,
free-flowing, unfiltered access. No one told us what to say. He
apologized. I did not think I needed an apology, but there was a great
sense of hope. A new bell had been rung."
Faith Johnston, 25, who was molested by a priest when she was 14 years
old, a man now in prison, burst into tears, unable to speak. The Pope
congratulated her on her upcoming wedding and prayed for her and for her
Bernie McDaid told him of being molested as an altar boy three decades
ago, saying "It was not just sexual abuse, but spiritual abuse." He
looked the Pope in the eye, adding, "You have a cancer growing in your
ministry," which he felt needed a substantial reform. To his surprise,
after not attending church for decades, he went to Nationals Park and
was "blown away" by the Pope's sermon, and was moved to tears.
He added, "This is the end of the beginning, a new start. There is real
hope there will be action following this meeting."
What sort of action? Cardinal William Levada said the church was
considering changes in canon law on how to govern such cases. For
example the statute of limitations might be changed that has prevented
some victim complaints from being considered, because the abused often
"don't feel personally able to come forward" for decades.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by
Priests, reacted, "Talk is good. Meeting victims is better. But genuine
reform is what's desperately needed. Only 6 percent of the world's
Catholics are in the U.S. The other 94 percent are much more vulnerable
to abuse. They have less sophisticated law enforcement.
"The Pope established a worldwide policy on saying the Latin Mass, but
there is no worldwide Catholic Church policy on abuse prevention.
Bishops who covered up sex crimes should be disciplined. If even one
were removed it would send shock waves, sparking accountability that now
However, the Pope took important initial steps in speaking out on the
issue, meeting victims, and pledging additional action.
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