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 CNS Story:

ABUSE-FOLEY Mar-18-2002 (500 words) xxxn

Vatican official says clerical sex abuse offends God, children

By Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The Vatican's top communications official said the real tragedy of clerical sex abuse is not the embarrassment caused to the church, but the grave offense against God and children.

Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said he has suggested to Pope John Paul II that the church dedicate three days during Holy Week as a period of prayer and reparation for the "tragic moral flaws" revealed in the lives of some priests.

"Let us face the fact that we are living in sad days for the church," Archbishop Foley told students and faculty at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia March 13.

Archbishop Foley recounted that, when asked once by a cardinal what was the best defense against charges of sexual abuse against the clergy, he replied: "Our best defense is virtue -- and, in the absence of virtue, candor.

"Tragically, there has apparently been a great absence of virtue," Archbishop Foley said of the recent revelations of sexual abuse by priests.

In some ways, he added, there has perhaps been an "excess of candor," too, as details of cases dating from several decades have been made public. This has increased the chance that names would be revealed not only of victimizers but also of victims, which could cause the victims and their families humiliation and embarrassment, he said.

"The real tragedy of the present crisis, apart from the undermining of confidence in the church and her clergy which results from such terrible actions and such revelations, is not embarrassment for the church; it is the fact of a grave offense against God and a grave offense against God's children," Archbishop Foley said.

"We all recall what Jesus said about those who scandalize his little ones," he added. The Gospel recounts Christ's strong words about one who brings the scandal of sin to a child: that it would better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the sea.

Archbishop Foley said the church needs priests who are pure in thought, word and deed, and who are men of prayer and self-giving service.

"In this time of great tragedy for the church, I have suggested to the highest authority that the three days before Holy Thursday, which is the day on which we recall the institution of the priesthood, be dedicated to reparation and to prayer for the sanctification of priests," he said.

He said the Archdiocese of Philadelphia -- his home diocese -- has long held a day of prayer for the sanctification of priests.

But this year, he said, a special time of prayer and sacrifice is needed, a "period of reparation for the tragic moral flaws which have been revealed in the lives of some of Christ's ministers," and a "period of prayer that those who follow Jesus as his priests might prove as worthy as possible of their -- of our -- vocation."


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