Ever since Joseph Ratzinger became Pope at the age (78) most of us would be enjoying our retirement, his actions have confirmed the decision by those who followed the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to elect him to the See of Peter.

Now, amid one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Church scandals of the age, he is firmly, pastorally guiding the Church. The shy German theologian and professor hasn’t avoided the glare of the spotlights that follow him wherever he goes, lurking to catch him slipping up. Decisively, he has used those lights to illumine the dark places of evil and injustice — especially in the Church.

On the plane flight from the Vatican to the Marian shrine of Fatima May 11, Pope Benedict told reporters that the terrifying sex-abuse scandal was “born from sin inside the Church.” That means Catholic priests, men who have taken vows before God to uphold the sanctity of their vocation, had failed.

Stern words indeed.

But wrapped in the sternness was the compassion that has surprised many in popular culture (but not those who know him and have followed his vocation).

After praying vespers May 12 in Fatima, Pope Benedict consecrated the priests of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“Immaculate mother, in this place of grace, called together by the love of your son Jesus the Eternal High Priest, we, sons in the Son and his priests, consecrate ourselves to your maternal heart, in order to carry out faithfully the Father’s will. We are mindful that, without Jesus, we can do nothing good (see John 15:5) and that only through him, with him and in him, will we be instruments of salvation for the world.

“Mother of the Church, we priests want to be pastors who do not feed themselves but rather give themselves to God for their brethren, finding their happiness in this. Not only with words, but with our lives, we want to repeat humbly, day after day, our ‘here I am.’ Guided by you, we want to be apostles of Divine Mercy, glad to celebrate every day the holy sacrifice of the altar and to offer to those who request it the sacrament of reconciliation. … Come to our aid and deliver us from every danger that threatens us. With this act of entrustment and consecration, we wish to welcome you more deeply, more radically, forever and totally into our human and priestly lives.”

That’s the vision of the priesthood of the Pope who called this Year for Priests and who described himself as “a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord.”

Just how humble is he? Humble enough to tell reporters on that in-flight press conference, “The Church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. And forgiveness does not substitute justice.”

And how simple is he? Simple enough to keep it simple and keep things straight: “We have to relearn these essentials: conversion, prayer, penance.”

May it be so for us all.