Pope Benedict’s 47-minute speech touched on a variety of topics. But its words about sex abuse were the only ones reported widely in the mainstream media.
When he met with approximately 350 bishops and nine cardinals in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception April 16 in Washington, he was marking this year as a “jubilee” bicentennial anniversary of the elevation of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and of the creation of the dioceses of Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville, Ky.
The Pope’s arrival at the National Shrine (shown left), as has been the case at each stop on this trip, was met with thunderous appreciation.
In his remarks, he did what Pope John Paul II did during the Great Jubilee: examine the Church’s conscience and set it on a path to a new springtime.
“Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs?” he asked. “Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?”
“Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted,” Benedict declared. “Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”
Pope Benedict reminded the bishops of their duty to target the crisis of dissent.
“Once again,” he said, “it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life.”
He urged the bishops to make a positive case for marriage and family.
“It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favor of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life,” he said. “This message should resonate with people today, because it is essentially an unconditional and unreserved Yes to life, a Yes to love.”
The latter part of the Pope’s address to the U.S. bishops dealt with the sexual abuse crisis. He reiterated sentiments he had expressed in a press conference on the plane coming over from Rome that the sex abuse crisis has caused “deep shame,” and added this time that “responding to this situation has not been easy and, as the president of your episcopal conference has indicated, it was ‘sometimes very badly handled.’”
“I’m very grateful he talked about the sexual abuse crisis,” said Bishop Gregory Aymond, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. “Some would say it’s over, but it’s not over until it doesn’t exist anymore.”
He put the sex abuse scandal in the larger context of sexual morality, asking, “What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes thorough media widely available today?”
But he ended his remarks by making an observation he doesn’t always make: He said “We can and must believe, with the late Pope John Paul II, that God is preparing a new springtime for Christianity.”
He also encouraged the bishops to be people of prayer, specifically mentioning the importance of Eucharistic adoration, the Mass, the Rosary, and the Liturgy of the Hours in the life of a bishop.
“It’s very exciting. It’s like the theme — ‘Christ is Our Hope’ — he’ll bring hope and spiritual renewal to this country,” said Sister Teresa Mary, from the Religious Sisters of Mercy from Maryland and director of visitor services at the Basilica. “He’s a great pastor, a gentle leader and very intelligent, yet able to explain the truth to everyone.”
“One of the things that the Holy Father does in a very extraordinary way is size up the culture,” said Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn after the address. “He highlighted some of the greatest dangers in the culture — secularism, materialism and individualism.”
St. Augustine, Fla. Bishop Victor Galeone said that he was pleased that the Holy Father addressed themes that he has previously stressed in his pontificate.
“He addressed the themes of secularism and the deteriorating moral values of our time,” said Bishop Galeone. “Yet, he treated them in a non-threatening way. He said that the best way to combat the relativism of our present age is to recapture the truths of our Catholic identity and present it in a new and engaging way.”
That new springtime was evident outside the shrine, and not just in the April blossoms.
While inside, the crowd was largely adults, outside, the majority were young people and students from the adjacent campus of The Catholic University of America, who were very vocal in their enthusiasm.
As the popemobile made its way down the street, screens showed his progress. The crowds both outside and inside the basilica cheered when he appeared on TV, even when he was nowhere nearby. Later, their shouts of Viva il Papa! could even be heard interrupting the vespers service (evening prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours) in the downstairs Crypt Church.
“I was surprised by his facility with the language,” said Veronica O’Donnell, a volunteer at the basilica, who watched his address. “I like his clarity, and that he’s not afraid of the thorny issues.”
Dorothy Young, a parishioner at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church in Washington, D.C., was warmed by the event.
Benedict is “is going to bring us all together to evangelize,” she added. “As a good shepherd, he will lead us.”
Tom Hoopes contributed to this story.
Tim Drake filed this story
from Washington, D.C.