VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI begged forgiveness Friday from clerical abuse victims for the sins of priests and promised to “do everything possible” to ensure prelates don’t rape or molest children ever again.
Benedict’s pledge was similar to comments he has made over time in the past. But they were uttered in the highly symbolic setting of a Mass concelebrated by 15,000 priests in St. Peter’s Square marking the end of the Vatican’s Year of the Priest. The yearlong celebration of the clergy has been marred by revelations of hundreds of new cases of clerical abuse, coverup and Vatican inaction to root out pedophiles.
In his homily, Benedict lamented that during what should have been a year of joy for the priesthood the “sins of priests came to light — particularly the abuse of the little ones.”
“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,” he said.
He said that in admitting men into the priesthood and in forming them as clergymen “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.”
His comments were similar to those reported by the Vatican during his private meeting with abuse victims in Malta in April, during which the pontiff had tears in his eyes as he heard the stories of men who had been molested by priests as children.
And they echoed his comments last month en route to Portugal in which he acknowledged that the “sins from within the church” were responsible for the scandal, not some outside anti-Catholic lobby.
As such, Friday’s comments were a public admission of the sins of priests, a request for forgiveness from their victims and God, and pledge to take action — all delivered before 15,000 priests from around the world who came to Rome for a show of support of the pontiff and the priesthood itself amid the scandal.
It is unclear if his comments, though, would satisfy demands from victims groups for a personal mea culpa followed up by a clear-cut plan of action to protect children.
Benedict’s own legacy has been tarnished by the scandal, since he was archbishop of Munich in the 1980s when he approved therapy for a suspected pedophile who was allowed to resume pastoral duties while being treated. The priest, the Rev. Peter Hullermann, later was handed a suspended sentence for molesting a boy. In addition, Benedict’s legacy at the Vatican office that dealt with sex abuse has come under scrutiny.
Benedict said the scandal had shown the need for a purification of the church, and a task which the church and its priests must carry on into the future.
“Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events,” he said. “But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: We grew in gratitude for God’s gift.”