The Pope has said the Catholic Church must reflect on what is wrong with its message and with Christian life in general that allowed for the widespread sexual abuse of children by priests.
He said the church must better train priests so that such abuses never occur again and must figure out how to help victims heal.
The Pope made the remarks to Vatican cardinals and bishops gathered for his traditional Christmas speech, an eagerly anticipated address that he uses to press key issues he wants the church hierarchy to reflect on.
While stressing that many priests do good work, Pope 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 is understood in the modern world that allowed for the abuse to fester unchecked.
The sex abuse scandal, which first exploded in the US 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 paedophile priests and of Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the crimes.
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 faster ways to permanently remove priests who raped and molested children in a bid to get around church law that made it exceedingly difficult to defrock priests against their will.
While Cardinal Ratzinger was unsuccessful then, Vatican rules now allow for fast-track defrocking for abusers. 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 paedophiles.