John Paul Says U.S. Church Will Recover From Abuse Scandal

VATICAN CITY — Addressing bishops from Boston and other New England dioceses, Pope John Paul II said he was confident that the Church in the United States could heal the wounds caused by the sex-abuse scandal.

While the cases of priestly abuse have “cast a shadow” on the Church, they must never be allowed to weaken Catholics' public witness of faith and hope, the Pope said Sept. 2.

At the same time, the Holy Father offered words of encouragement to the many good priests he said have “suffered deeply because of the much-publicized failings of some of the Church's ministers.”

The Pope made the comments in a text that he read in part to some 25 bishops during a meeting at his summer residence outside Rome. John Paul had been meeting individually all week with the bishops, who were on their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican. Bishops make these visits every five years to report on the state of their dioceses.

Among the bishops was Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston, who, in a short speech to the Pope, spoke of the “great pain” caused by the sex-abuse cases. The Archdiocese of Boston was the center of the scandal, with more than 160 priests accused of sexually abusing minors over the past 50 years.

John Paul told the bishops, “The Church in your country has been chastened by the events of the past two years, and much effort has rightly been expended on understanding and addressing the issues of sexual abuse, which have cast a shadow on her life and ministry.”

He acknowledged that the sex-abuse crisis has left behind “significant spiritual and material challenges,” but reminded the bishops of the power of grace to “inspire wisdom, reconcile differences, heal wounds and point to a future of hope.”

Support Priests

Priests deserve particular support from their bishops during this time of trial, the Pope said. He expressed his personal gratitude for “the generous and selfless service which marks the lives of so many American priests.”

“In a very real way, the renewal of the Church is linked to the renewal of the priesthood,” the Holy Father said. “Tell your priests that I hold them in my heart.”

Throughout this year's “ad limina” visits, Vatican officials have asked groups of U.S. bishops to encourage their priests in the wake of the abuse scandal.

Archbishop O'Malley, who was sent to Boston last year after the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, told the Pope the Church was still trying to bring healing to families who feel betrayed by priestly sex abuse.

“Oftentimes, the victims and their families were among those most committed to the life of the Church, and so the abuse has been experienced as the most serious betrayal,” Archbishop O'Malley said.

The archbishop also echoed John Paul's message of hope, saying good can come out of evil.

“We are humbled by our sins and offenses but confident that God does not forsake us and calls us to strive for healing and reconciliation,” Archbishop O'Malley said.

In his text, the Pope emphasized the leadership role of the Church in the United States in devising new and successful forms of evangelization in a changing global culture.

For all its relativism and materialism, he said, modern culture is “struggling to discover its spiritual roots” and needs the Church's guidance. The challenge is to develop a style of evangelization that appeals to the needs of contemporary men and women, offering them clear answers grounded in the Gospel, he said.

The Pope also encouraged the bishops to maintain the Church's strong voice in public debate on such issues as human rights, human dignity and other ethical areas. In the United States, that can be better accomplished through ecumenical and interreligious cooperation, he said.

The efforts by U.S. bishops in their own country can have far-reaching effects, the Pope said.

“As the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, have made clear, the building of a global culture of solidarity and respect for human dignity is one of the great moral tasks confronting humanity today,” he said.

“In the end, it is in the conversion of hearts and the spiritual renewal of humanity that the hope of a better tomorrow lies, and here the witness, example and cooperation of religious believers has a unique role to play,” he said.

The Pope praised the traditional generosity of U.S. Catholics in training and sending missionaries to all parts of the world. He asked the bishops to make every effort to revive this “missionary zeal,” above all by promoting vocations to missionary institutes.

‘Same Wavelength’

After the New England bishops met Sept. 1 with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bishop Robert Mulvee of Providence, R.I., said the bishops felt they were generally “on the same wavelength” with the Vatican about the effects of sexual abuse.

“We got a very positive response, and we were pleased with how cases are being handled” by the congregation, he said. He also said the bishops were “impressed with how open and concerned they were.”

Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza of Hartford, Conn., said the bishops spoke Aug. 31 with U.S. Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, who heads the Apostolic Penitentiary, an office that deals with matters of conscience involving the sacrament of penance. The meeting included a “theological discussion about sin and what it does to the entire body of the Church,” Bishop Rosazza said.

Said Bishop Rosazza, “The obvious case is sex abuse, but all sin as well. Evil committed by one member of the Church, or by 10, or by a thousand members, hurts the whole body.”

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