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Pope says sex abuse is 'a scourge which affects every level of society'

Pope Benedict’s latest remarks have not done well with abuse victims’ advocacy groups.

Pope Benedict XVI (File photo)
Pope Benedict XVI (File photo)
Image: AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito

POPE BENEDICT XVI insisted today that all of society’s institutions and not just the Catholic church must be held to “exacting” standards in their response to sex abuse of children, and defended the church’s efforts to confront the problem.

Benedict acknowledged in remarks to visiting US bishops during an audience at the Vatican that paedophilia was a “scourge” for society, and that decades of scandals over clergy abusing children had left Catholics in the United States bewildered.

“It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society,” he said.

“By the same token, just as the church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards,” the pope said.

An official of a US group advocating for victims of clergy abuse lamented that Benedict, with his remarks, was setting a “terrible example” for bishops.

“No public figure talks more about child safety but does little to actually make children safer than Pope Benedict,” David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told The Associated Press in an emailed statement.

“The pope would have us believe that this crisis is about sex abuse. It isn’t. It is about covering up sex abuse,” Clohessy said. “And while child sex crimes happen in every institution, in no institution are they ignored or concealed as consistently as in the Catholic church.”

The paedophile scandal has exploded in recent decades in the United States, but similar clergy sex abuse revelations have tainted the church in many other countries, including Mexico, Ireland, and several other European nations, including Italy.

‘A terrible example’

Benedict told the bishops that his papal pilgrimage to the United States in 2008 “was intended to encourage the Catholics of America in the wake of the scandal and disorientation caused by the sexual abuse crisis of recent decades.”

Echoing sentiment he has expressed in occasional meetings with victims of the abuse on trips abroad, Benedict added: “I wish to acknowledge personally the suffering inflicted on the victims and the honest efforts made to ensure both the safety of our children and to deal appropriately and transparently with allegations as they arise.”

Benedict seemed to be reflecting some churchmen’s contentions that the church has wrongly been singled out as villains for the abuse, a view that angered victims’ advocates.

“The pope is again setting a terrible example for the world’s bishops, echoing the claim by some of them that the church hierarchy is somehow being picked on by the public, the press and their parishioners,” Clohessy said .

Despite criticism over US bishops’ handling of the abuse scandals, Benedict exhorted the churchmen to be moral compasses for US society. The bishops, in Rome for consultations with the pope that are scheduled every five years, were urged to speak out “humbly yet insistently in defence of moral truth.”

Benedict lamented what he called efforts to stop the church from speaking out publicly.

Read: Vatican confirms appointment of new Papal Nuncio to Ireland >

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Associated Press

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