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 CNS Story:

ABUSE-LOMBARDI Apr-9-2010 (780 words) xxxi

Vatican spokesman says pope has been rigorous leader on sex abuse

Father Lombardi (CNS/Paul Haring)

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican spokesman strongly defended Pope Benedict XVI as a credible leader on the issue of priestly sex abuse, saying the pope's respect for truth and transparency stand against the "criticism and unfounded insinuations" of recent weeks.

The spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said in a lengthy commentary April 9 that the recent disclosures of past cases of abuse of minors by priests had demonstrated that the wounds in the church run deep, and require greater pastoral attention.

But he said the church was taking the correct approach by reaching out to victims, strengthening its own procedures against offenders, encouraging cooperation with civil authorities and improving the screening of priesthood candidates.

Father Lombardi criticized the media for treating sexual abuse as if it were only a church problem. The crisis, he said, is extensive and goes well beyond the boundaries of the Catholic clergy.

Responding to widespread criticism of the pope and the Vatican for allegedly failing to act more decisively against priest abusers, Father Lombardi said the church's current policies of transparency and firmness reflected the pope's own determination to address the problem.

"Pope Benedict XVI, a coherent guide along the path of rigor and truth, merits all respect and support," Father Lombardi said.

"He is a pastor well capable of facing -- with great rectitude and confidence -- this difficult time in which there is no lack of criticism and unfounded insinuations," he said.

Church leaders can learn from Pope Benedict "the constancy necessary to grow in truth and transparency" and to respond patiently to "the slow and gradual release of partial or presumed 'revelations' which seek to undermine his credibility," he said.

The spokesman added that this same "patient and solid love of truth" should be shown not only by everyone in the church but also by those in society who communicate and write, "if we want to serve and not confuse our contemporaries."

In response to the barrage of media criticism of the pope and his aides, Father Lombardi and other Vatican officials have pointed out that even as a cardinal, Pope Benedict pushed hard for stricter measures for prosecuting and defrocking priest abusers. As pope, he has repeatedly condemned such abuse as a terrible sin and crime, and has met with sex abuse victims in the United States and Australia.

Father Lombardi said the recent events have revealed, in a striking manner, that although most of these sex abuse cases go back decades, the "inner wounds" are evidently still open.

"Many victims do not seek financial compensation but inner assistance, a judgment on their painful individual experiences. There is something that we have yet to fully understand; perhaps we need a more profound experience of events that have had such a negative impact on the lives of individuals, of the church and of society," he said.

While the cases may be old and the number of new allegations diminishing, he said, "for many people the road to profound healing is only now beginning, and for others it has yet to start."

The spokesman reiterated Pope Benedict's willingness to hold new meetings with victims of abuse. And he said certain bishops' conferences had rightly established forums for listening to abuse victims.

"Alongside concern for victims we must continue to implement, decisively and truthfully, the correct procedures for the canonical judgment of the guilty, and for collaborating with the civil authorities in matters concerning their judicial and penal competencies, taking the specific norms and situations of the various countries into account," he said.

"Only in this way can we hope effectively to rebuild a climate of justice and complete trust in the ecclesiastical institution," he said.

Father Lombardi said the question of maturity in sexual matters was important when it comes to accepting candidates for the priesthood. But he said the issue touches on a wider problem in society, which has been affected by a "sexual revolution" and a process of general secularization.

"In the final analysis, this means rediscovering and reaffirming the sense and importance of sexuality, chastity and emotional relationships in today's world, and doing so in concrete, not just verbal or abstract, terms," he said.

He faulted the media for failing to adequately report the extent of the sexual abuse problem, and for failing to make it clear that the church was dealing with a problem shared by many institutions.

For example, he said, a recent document on mistreatment of children in the United States reported that in 2008, there were more than 62,000 perpetrators of sexual abuse against minors; of that number, he said, the proportion of Catholic priests was so small as not to be taken into consideration as a group.

A front-page commentary the same day in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, praised Pope Benedict as a "courageous witness of truth" even when it came to scandals of the church's own members.

"Whoever can set aside prejudice is impressed by the strength of this pope who ... does not fear the outrage and derision of the world" and "the truth at any cost, even if it hurts, even if it burns the soul," said the commentary, written by Italian Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia.


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