Pope speaks on sex scandal

Pontiff asks young people to remain faithful despite `the harm done by some'

`Fills us all with ... shame'

At World Youth Day Mass, he notes good done by `vast majority of priests'

July 29, 2002|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- In a plea to those he calls the hope and future of the church, Pope John Paul II beseeched hundreds of thousands of young Catholic pilgrims encamped yesterday on a former airfield not to lose faith because of "the harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable."

In his first remarks on the sexual abuse scandal during this weeklong World Youth Day celebration, the pope said the abuse of minors by priests "fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame."

But he urged the youths to look beyond the evil of a few.

"If you love Jesus, you love the church," the pope told the youths in a clear and emphatic voice that in recent years has often been slurred and indistinct because of Parkinson's disease. "Do not be discouraged by the sins and failings of some of her members.

"But," he said, emphasizing the word loudly and pointedly, "think of the vast majority of dedicated priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good."

His words were met with swelling applause as the youths, who came from more than 170 nations, listened to simultaneous translations on transistor radios. "There are many priests, seminarians and consecrated persons [members of religious orders] here today," he said. "Be close to them and support them!"

This was the third time the pope has addressed the sexual abuse crisis, which has shaken the Roman Catholic Church in America, but it was the first time he has spoken about it to a public audience. He alluded to it in a Holy Week letter to priests and called sexual abuse a "crime" and "an appalling sin" in a speech to the U.S. cardinals who were summoned to the Vatican in April to discuss the crisis.

Since the latest scandal erupted in January, about 300 priests in the United States have been relieved of duty because of abuse allegations against them.

Pope John Paul's words were welcomed by the thousands of priests and seminarians in the crowd.

"It was awesome," said Ronald Czyz Jr., 22, a student at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmittsburg, Md. "The frustrating part is that the guys committing these crimes get front-page headlines. The 40,000 priests who feed the hungry, serve the poor, do the work of building the kingdom of God go unnoticed."

But David Clohessey, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the pope "missed several golden opportunities."

"First, to talk about the real crux of the problem, which is the bishops themselves. Second, he missed a great opportunity to encourage young people to listen to, believe and support abuse victims as so many of their elders have begun to do," he said. "Finally, he missed an opportunity to heal people by not apologizing."

At the end of the day, Pope John Paul announced the site of the next World Youth Day, which will be held in Cologne, Germany, in 2005.

The pope is to leave Canada today and fly to Guatemala before continuing to Mexico, where he is to conclude his 11-day trip, the 97th of his papacy.

About 500,000 campers attended the papal Mass yesterday. The bedraggled pilgrims hiked Saturday into the former airfield in north Toronto, now a public park called Downsview Lands, and camped overnight on soggy grass fields and concrete runways. Organizers said walk-ups pushed attendance at the Mass to about 800,000.

Enterprising delegations built shelters for protection, first from the punishing sun Saturday and then against the rain, which began as a downpour about 6 a.m. yesterday.

The official delegation of more than 100 people from the Archdiocese of Baltimore encamped about a half-mile to the left of the enormous stage, which accommodated 1,300 participants and was topped by a 165-foot- tall gold-colored cross.

The wet wake-up call was a blessing for some. "I think it woke everybody up," said Jen Ernst, 17, of Columbia, Md., who recalled that many slept through the Mass at World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. "Everyone woke up and really focused on the Holy Father and what was going on."

As the Mass began, the rain subsided and a stiff wind whipped across the staging area. As the pope began speaking, the sun broke out.

"Lluvia! Viento! Sol!," the pope said in Spanish, referring to the rapid change in the weather -- rain, wind, sun -- during a pause in his homily in one of several ad libs from his prepared text.

Pope John Paul also got a rousing response of laughter and applause from the young crowd when he said, "You are young and the pope is old, 82.

"It is not the same as 22 or 23," he continued. "But the pope still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations.

"Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young," he said.

Holiness, the pope said, is not a question of age but is a choice young people can make now.

"That is what I've been waiting to hear," said Mark Pacione, director of youth ministry for the archdiocese and leader of the delegation. "Let them hear that the man they adore identifies with them."

Pacione believes that's why the young are drawn to this religious leader.

"He values young people like nobody I know in history," he said. "Young people are not just leaders in waiting. They lead at 15, they lead at 17. `Do it now.' It empowers young people."

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