Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pope: priests must protect kids

Last updated April 25, 2010 8:09 a.m. PT

Pope: priests must protect kids

Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful during the Regina Caeli prayer in St. Peter's square, at the Vatican, Sunday, April 25, 2010.The Pontiff is praising an Italian priest's group which battles pedophilia. Benedict's encouragement for clergy and lay people to work to prevent sexual and other abuse of children comes after weeks of accusations he and other top churchmen helped perpetuate systematic cover-ups of molester priests worldwide. The pope told pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter's Square Sunday that he was grateful for those who are supporting his papacy with prayers but made no direct mention of the accusations. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI told priests Sunday to safeguard children in their charge from evil and win the "absolute" trust of their flock, even as his own papacy is clouded by accusations he and other top churchmen failed to protect minors adequately from pedophile clergy.

Since a trip to Malta a week earlier when he wept with adults who had been sexually abused as children by priests, Benedict seems to be stepping up his reaction as the scandal deepens and widens, posing the most challenging crisis in decades for the Roman Catholic church.

Benedict, in remarks to the public in St. Peter's Square Sunday, told priests they must "fight for the defense of the flock," defend their charges from "evil" and ensure that faithful can place "absolute trust" in their pastors.

He urged them to model themselves on Jesus the "Good Shepherd," who, "with immense tenderness, safeguards his flock and defends it from evil," adding "only in him can the faithful place their absolute trust."

But Benedict made no admission of responsibility for devising and overseeing what victims in lawsuits contend were strategies to protect the church from scandal instead of children from harmful priests.

In his remarks from his studio window in the Apostolic Palace, he appeared on guiding the world's 1.1 billion Catholics through the church crisis. He thanked the crowd and "all those who with their prayers and affection support my ministry" as pontiff.

Benedict singled out for praise an Italian church group that promoted Sunday as a national day to remember abused children.

The Meter Association combats pedophilia in the Italian Catholic church. But while hailing its work in defending children from "violence, exploitation and indifference," the pope never used the word "pedophilia" and did not mention the violence that children have suffered at the hands of priests and, in at least a couple of cases, even bishops.

Instead the pope focused on the good clergy do for children.

"Above all, I want to thank and encourage all those who dedicate themselves to prevention and education" against violence, Benedict said, singling out parents, teachers and the "so many priests, nuns" and others who work with young people in parishes, schools and church groups.

Meter was founded by the Rev. Fortunato Di Noto, who has complained that some cases of pedophile priests were handled "with imprudence" by the Church.

Benedict so far has resisted calls that he take responsibility for his own actions, first as archbishop in Germany, and later in his long years heading the Vatican watchdog office against immorality.

Revealed in the scandals has been a pattern of transferring molesting clergy from parish to parish. In some cases abusers were sent to missions in faraway countries, including in Africa where many impoverished parents depend on the church for the welfare and education of their children.

Victims' lobbies have been skeptical that real change is in motion, starting from the top, despite recent promises from the Vatican that "effective measures" to protect children are in the works, and Benedict's recent decision to accept the resignations of some bishops, including an Irish one last week who failed to report abuse to police.

The Catholic dissident group We Are Church, while appreciating Benedict's latest efforts, has lamented that the action is late in coming.

Still, Benedict's open talk about abused children and his admonishment to priests to protect minors is an abrupt turnaround from the defensive parries the Vatican was making only a few weeks earlier against the seemingly relentless scandal revelations.

Only three weeks earlier, the Vatican turned its most solemn religious occasion - Easter Sunday Mass - into a ringing defense of the pontiff against what one top cardinal scornfully dismissed as "petty gossip."

Since then, nearly every day the scandals' shock value seems to spiral upward, tainting the ranks of bishops, who are all appointed to their posts by pontiffs.

On Friday, Belgium's longest serving bishop resigned because he sexually abused a young boy for years, including after becoming bishop. It was also recently revealed that a Norwegian bishop resigned because he had molested a child as a priest.

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