WASHINGTON, April, 17, 2008 (vaticans.org) -- One of the "countersigns to the Gospel of life" in the United States is the sexual abuse of minors, a situation "that causes deep shame," Pope Benedict XVI told about 300 U.S. bishops gathered April 16 in the crypt church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
He called it an "evil" and said the U.S. bishops have "rightly moved" to address it. The programs they have put in place to discipline priests and other church personnel who are abusers, to create safe environments protecting young people, to foster healing and to "bind up the wounds" caused by "such breach of trust" are bearing fruit, he said.
But the pope also said the problem of sex abuse must be placed in a wider context when pornography, violence and "the crude manipulation of sexuality" are so prevalent in society today.
The pope arrived at the shrine in his popemobile, smiling and waving to enthusiastic crowds that lined the adjacent streets and the front of the basilica. He looked relaxed and in good form on the second day of his April 15-20 visit, which will also take him to New York.
After an evening prayer service, Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a talk that the bishops greeted the pope not as a foreign visitor but as "a father and a friend in Christ."
Cardinal George briefly traced the history of the church in the United States, including some times of trouble.
"In our own day, the consequences of the dreadful sin of sexual abuse of minors by some priests and of its sometimes being very badly handled by bishops make both the personal faith of some Catholics and the public life of the church herself more problematic," the cardinal said.
In his talk, the pope said priests themselves "have experienced shame" over abuse carried out by fellow clergy and others and they need the bishops' "guidance and closeness during this difficult time." He also said people must remember the "overwhelming majority" of priests and religious in the U.S. do "outstanding work."
The pope also addressed the effect of secularism and materialism on how Catholics and others live out their beliefs in a day-to-day world, the state of the family within society, "a certain quiet attrition" of Catholics leaving the faith and the need for vocations.
He talked about the role of the bishops in addressing issues of the day, especially during an election year when church leaders cannot assume, he said, that "all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the church's teaching on key ethical issues."
"It falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life," Pope Benedict said, noting that currently in the U.S. and elsewhere there is "proposed legislation that gives cause for concern from the point of morality."
He did not mention particular issues, but said the Catholic community under the bishops' guidance "needs to offer a clear and united witness on such matters," and the minds and hearts of the wider community must be opened "to moral truth." Lay Catholics "can act as a 'leaven' in society" in this regard, he said.
Early in his speech he noted that the U.S. church is "blessed with a Catholic laity of considerable diversity, who place their wide-ranging gifts at the service of the church."
Regarding the sex abuse scandal, he said, "Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior."
He said the bishops have rightly moved to show compassion and care for the victims, to foster healing and promote reconciliation in the aftermath of "every breach of trust."
Saying that the bishops have acknowledged that abuse cases have been "sometimes very badly handled," he said the bishops' measures to address the scandal at all levels "are bearing great fruit."
However, he said, if such policies are to achieve "their full purpose," they must be placed "in a wider context" of sexual mores and children must grow up "with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships."
He said the values "underpinning society" need to be "urgently reassessed to provide a sound moral foundation for children and young people.
Children "have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person," the pope said.
"By acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your diocese, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined collective response," he said.
Children must "be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today," he said.
Offering a sound moral foundation to children is the responsibility not only of parents but of religious leaders, teachers and catechists, and "the media and entertainment industries."
Regarding other issues, Pope Benedict praised Americans for having "a genuinely religious spirit," but said secularism and materialism can subtly influence the way people live out their faith. He questioned why members of the faithful who worship in church on Sunday act contrary to their beliefs and church teaching during the rest of the week.
He pointed to people ignoring or exploiting the poor, or promoting business practices, sexual behavior or positions on right-to-life issues that are contrary Catholic moral teaching.
He also talked about the state of the family, saying that a healthy family life contributes to "peace in and within nations." In the family home, he said, people learn about justice and love, the role of authority and concern for one another.
But increasing rates of divorce and infidelity, delayed marriage, more cohabitation and a growing disregard for the sacramental bond of marriage are hurting the institution of marriage and eroding family as a basic building block of society, he said.
He also said the family is the primary place for evangelization and passing on the Catholic faith.
He said the church needs to discover "new and engaging ways of proclaiming" the message. He also said that too often today religion is becoming too much of a private matter, and as such "loses its very soul."
Regarding vocations, he said, "Let us be quite frank: The ability to cultivate vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is a sure sign of the health of a local church."
He urged the faithful to pray for vocations but said more than prayer is needed, he said. He encouraged the bishops to create opportunities for young people who come forward to explore a vocation also talk to their peers about the possibility, and to encourage all their priests to come together to dialogue and have an opportunity for fraternal encounters.
He urged all priest to overcome any divisions they have among them, to move beyond disagreements and listen to one another and "the Spirit, who is guiding the church into a future of hope."
As he opened his speech, the pope reviewed the beginnings of the church in the U.S. calling the nation's first bishop, Bishop John Carroll "a worthy leader of the Catholic community in your newly independent nation."
Bishop Carroll and his fellow bishops, the pope said, laid the foundation for "the rich variety of ecclesial life in present-day America."
He said people in the U.S. "are remarkable for their religious fervor and take pride in belonging to a worshipping community." He noted that Americans are "known for their generosity," and said the outpouring of help for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was evidence of that.
Benedict will turn 81 on today, April 16.
Vatican City, April 15, 2008 (vaticans.org) - Under the banner of a "hope for peace, for justice, for freedom" that cannot be realised "without obeying the law of God", the eighth international voyage of Benedict XVI began today, which will take him to the United States of America and to the headquarters of the United Nations.
The airplane with the pope on board took off from the airport of Fiumicino (Rome) at noon, and will arrive in Washington at 4:00 p.m. local time (8:00 p.m. GMT). At his arrival at the international airport of Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, Benedict XVI will be welcomed by President George W. Bush, together with the first lady. It is an unusual gesture for American protocol, and indicates the importance that the White House attributes to the papal visit, to which the American media are also devoting significant coverage.
The trip, which will continue until the 20th, includes among its most highly anticipated appointments the speech that the pope will give to the assembly of the UN on April 18, and the prayer that he will pronounce at Ground Zero on the 20th. It is expected that Benedict XVI will speak to the world leaders on topics that are dear to him, such as peace, respect for human rights, beginning with that of life, and also the necessity of modifying the lifestyles of rich countries in order to combat the negative effects of globalisation, of dedicating funds to development, and of fighting against disease.
The prayer for the victims of the attack on September 11 is expected to include an appeal for conversion of heart addressed to terrorists.
The other significant appointments include the Mass on the 17th at Nationals Stadium in Washington, and the meeting afterward with Catholic educators at The Catholic University of America. In New York there will be reflection on the difficult situation of the Catholic Church in the United States, which will emerge from the meetings on the 19th with priests and religious men and women at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, and with young people and seminarians at Saint Joseph Seminary. The pope, as cardinal secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone revealed in a television interview with Rome Reports, will talk about the scandal of sexual abuse on the part of priests, "calling for the united construction of a culture of moral integrity, of ethical perfection, and even of sanctity", and "will above all urge religious and consecrated persons to be an example for others". On Sunday the 20th, finally, there will be Mass in Yankee Stadium.
But these days will also have a "personal" character for the pope: tomorrow, April 16, he will celebrate his 81st birthday, and on April 19 the third anniversary of his election to the pontificate.
The visit of Benedict XVI to the United States can also be followed on the internet. The United States Bishops' Conference has created the site www.uspapalvisit.org, which will present all of the appointments of the trip.
Vatican City, Apr. 14, 2008 (vaticans.org) - During his Regina Caeli address on April 13, Pope Benedict XVI called attention to the World Day of Prayer for Vocations and encouraged more prayers "for numerous and holy vocations to the priesthood, to consecrated life and the missions, and to Christian marriage."
The Holy Father reminded the faithful that the Church is preparing for a special year devoted to St. Paul, who was a "missionary par excellence." The epistles of St. Paul, he remarked, remind readers that "vocation and mission are inseparable," because God calls all of his follower to spread the Word.
"This missionary service is carried out in the first place by priests," the Pope continued, noting that priests are necessarily to bring the sacraments to the people. Male and female religious also play "a prime role in evangelization," he continued-- pausing to pay tribute to two religious who were killed recently while performing missionary work in Guinea and in Kenya.
Finally the Pope reminded his listeners that "Christian matrimony is a missionary vocation." In the family, the workplace, and the community, he said, all believers can promote the message of the Gospel.
Washington, Apr. 16, 2008 (vaticans.org) - In a private conversation at the White House on April 16, Pope Benedict XVI and US President George W. Bush spoke about a wide range of issues including terrorism, the dignity of human life, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, immigration, and development in Africa.
The Holy Father met with Bush in the Oval Office after a public reception attended by over 10,000 people on the White House lawn earlier on Tuesday morning. [See the separate CWN headline story.]
In a joint statement released after the private session, the Vatican and the White House reported that President Bush had renewed his birthday greetings to the Pontiff, thanking him for his visit. The President made a special point of thanking the Pope for scheduling a visit to pray at the "Ground Zero" site in New York--- an event that is on the papal calendar for Sunday, April 20.
The joint statement listed a number of topics on which the Vatican and the Bush Administration are in agreement, including the defense of human life and marriage, the importance of religious freedom, and the condemnation of terrorism and violence-- especially violence commimtted in the name of religion.
The Pope acknowledged the "substantial financial contributions" that the US has made to developing nations, with special reference to the American initiatives against AIDS in Africa.
"The Holy Father and the President devoted considerable time in their discussions to the Middle East, in particular resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict," the statement continued. The Pope drew attention to the dangerous political crisis threatening Lebanon and to the "precarious state of Christian communities" in the region.
The Pope and the President also spoke about immigration, a topic that the Pontiff had mentioned during a press conference with reporters during his flight from Rome. Following up on the theme that he had emphasized in that discussion with the press, the Holy Father spoke about the need to care for the welfare of immigrants and "the well being of their families."