Pope Benedict XVI prayed for forgiveness, but also defended the priesthood, during a Holy Mass on Friday that marked the end of what he had decreed the “Year for Priests.” That special recognition has been overshadowed by church sex—abuse allegations that have surfaced around the world.
“We too implore God and the affected people for forgiveness and, at the same time, promise that we want to do everything possible to never let such abuse happen again,” the pope said during the mass on Saint Peter’s Square, which was attended by some 15,000 priests.
That is thought to be most frank admission yet by the pope of the church’s need for forgiveness for its role in the child sex abuse scandal.
At the same time, Pope Benedict also sided with the clergy.
The priesthood is “not only an ‘office,’ but a sacrament,” especially since God avails himself of “a pitiful person” in a priest to let, “through all human weakness, his love manifest itself in this world,” the pope said.
The fact that the “Year of the Priest” has been overshadowed by the allegations is interpreted by the church as an “assignment for purification, which is accompanying us into the future,” he added.
The pope had earlier defended the celibacy required of priests, which has come under fire in the wake of the abuse scandal, during a prayer vigil with priests on Thursday night.
Today’s society views celibacy as a “big scandal,” he noted. It is, however, “the best antidote against other scandals that are caused by our human shortcomings,” he said.
In recent months, revelations of sexual abuse by priests have surfaced in the United States, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Mexico and the pontiff’s native Germany.