By Nicole Winfield ,AP
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI said Monday the Catholic Church must reflect on what is wrong with its message and Christian life in general that allowed for the widespread sexual abuse of children by priests. While accepting responsibility for the scandal, Benedict said the abuse must also be seen in the broader social context, in which child pornography and sexual tourism are rampant, and where as recently as the 1970s pedophilia wasn’t considered the absolute evil that it is today. The pope made the remarks to Vatican cardinals and bishops gathered for his traditional Christmas speech, an eagerly anticipated address that Benedict uses to press key issues he wants the church hierarchy to reflect on. While stressing that most priests do good, honest work, Benedict said revelations of abuse in 2010 reached “an unimaginable dimension” that required the church to accept the “humiliation” as a call for renewal. “We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustices that occurred,” Benedict said. “We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our message, in our entire way of configuring the Christian being, that allowed such a thing to occur. We must find a new determination in faith and goodness.” Benedict has previously acknowledged that the scandal was the result of sin within the church and that the church as a result must repent for it and make amends with victims.
But Monday’s comments suggested that there might be some intrinsic problem with the way Christianity and its message was understood in the modern world that allowed for the abuse to fester unchecked. The sex abuse scandal, which first exploded in the U.S. in 2002, erupted on a global scale this year with revelations of thousands of victims in Europe and beyond, of bishops who covered up for pedophile priests and of Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the crimes for decades. Questions were raised about how Benedict himself handled cases both as archbishop in Munich and as head of the Vatican office that handled abuse cases. Recently, the Vatican released documentation showing that as early as 1988 then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sought to find quicker ways to permanently remove priests who raped and molested children in a bid to get around church law that made it difficult to defrock priests against their will. While Ratzinger was unsuccessful then, Vatican rules now allow for fast-track defrocking.
But victims’ advocates say the Vatican still has a long way to go in terms of requiring bishops to report sex crimes to police and release information and documentation about known pedophiles. “We know of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and our corresponding responsibility,” Benedict told the prelates gathered in the frescoed Sala Regia of the Vatican’s apostolic palace. But he said the crimes of the priests also had to be looked at in today’s context, where child pornography, drug use, sexual trafficking are to some degree considered normal even though an entire generation of children is being harmed. “The psychological devastation of children, in which human beings are reduced to a marketplace article, is a terrifying sign of the times,” Benedict said. He said the underlying ideology of such rampant excesses stemmed from the 1970s, when “pedophilia was theorized as something that was in keeping with man and even the child,” where nothing was considered good or evil in and of itself but only relative to the circumstances. “The effects of such theories are evident today,” he said. He called for a renewed sense of morality, stressing absolute good and evil, to guide the faithful.