Pope Benedict XVI no doubt will be feeling encouraged today when he celebrates the fifth anniversary since he was elected leader of the Catholic Church.
His 26-hour fleeting visit to the Mediterranean island of Malta during the weekend is being widely viewed as a success for two reasons: the enthusiastic welcome of the Maltese people (96 percent of whom are Catholic), and a successful meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse. The Vatican will be hoping these factors will help draw a line under the abuse scandal and incessant media attacks on the church and the Pope in particular.
One of the victims the Pope met, Lawrence Grech, said he was “very satisfied” with the meeting, adding that “the priests who abused us are criminals, but the Pope is not.” Grech said he asked the Pope why it happened, to which the pontiff replied: “I don’t know . . . I don’t know why they have done this to you. It’s too great a horror, perhaps too great even for God.”
Grech said he finally could return to his wife and children and “rediscover my faith.”
The Vatican called the encounter, during which the Pope knelt in silent prayer with the victims, “very moving.” Benedict XVI was reported to have had tears in his eyes.
Every Maltese person I spoke with in Valletta said the Pope had been unfairly implicated in the scandal (the Pope has been accused of mishandling three cases, each of which the Vatican has denied, and his supporters say that no evidence against him has been convincing).
Danny Scerri, 33, knew one of the priests alleged to have abused the victims who met the Pope. “He was at my school and one of our teachers,” he told me. “It was an open secret that he was a child abuser, as he used to touch pupils in the changing rooms, but no one did anything. They just turned a blind eye.”
The accused is charged with abusing and raping children at the St. Joseph Home in Santa Venera in Malta, along with two other priests.
Scerri said he felt angry that, despite criminal charges being lodged against the priest in 2003, he has not been laicized and the legal process is continuing. The church says he has been suspended from active ministry, but Scerri said, “He’s still walking the streets.”
Scerri is one of Malta’s 4 percent who have formally severed ties with the church. Yet he also believes the Pope has acted effectively in the past to tackle this issue. He wished action had been taken earlier and felt people should have spoken out, but he didn’t blame the Pope.
Vatican officials’ focus today will be on Benedict XVI’s fifth anniversary as pontiff.
This hasn’t been an easy pontificate. It has been plagued by crises and PR mistakes, generally the fault of the Pope’s advisers rather than Benedict himself. But in spite of this, many see the Pope’s achievements as remarkable, given his age and obvious frailty: three encyclicals, 13 foreign trips, three synods, a book, and countless homilies and addresses are cited as his most successful practical achievements so far.
He also has made strides in Christian unity, opening dialogue with the breakaway Society of Pius X, paving the way for markedly better relations with the Orthodox Church, and creating a structure for groups of Anglicans to come into the communion with Rome.
He is trying to repair continuity between centuries of tradition and today’s Church and has, as expected, consistently fought against secularism, arguing that religion retain its rightful place in the public sphere.
In terms of teaching, he has tried to explain that Christianity is not a religion of prohibitions but rather love and self-sacrifice. Rocco Buttiglione, a philosophy professor and friend of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, told Newsmax that the Pope’s contribution to the world can best be summarized in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”).
Today’s world “does not want the church to have an idea about the truth of man,” he said. “They want a love without truth.” But he said the Pope is trying to show that there is an objective truth which is necessary to truly love another person.
“The message of Benedict XVI is that true love is a passionate interest in another; a passionate interest that is aimed at the true happiness, true fulfillment of each individual human being,” he said. “Authority means you take responsibility to sometimes, if need be, say ‘no.’ Our society suffers from a lack of authority. Parents do not feel authorized to say ‘no’ anymore. They don’t even know on which occasions they should say ‘no’ because there is the idea that there is no objective truth.”
Buttiglione believes Benedict XVI will be remembered “as a great pope” because of this teaching and his other achievements.
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