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Pope speaks out on clerical abuse cases

Benedict calls church's sex scandals `egregious crimes' and stresses the need for healing.

October 29, 2006|From the Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday that clerical sex abuses were "egregious crimes" that had damaged the standing of the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy, in his first explicit remarks on the subject since becoming pontiff.

It is urgent "to rebuild confidence and trust," Benedict told a group of bishops from Ireland, an overwhelmingly Catholic country where all seminaries but one have closed following repeated scandals.

"The wounds caused by such acts run deep," Benedict said.

The pope told the bishops that as they continued to deal with the problem, "it is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes."

Benedict mentioned only the crisis in Ireland, but his comments were likely to resonate in other nations, including the United States, where the church has been plagued by sex abuse scandals.

In May, Benedict asked the founder of the conservative order Legion of Christ, Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, to stop celebrating public Masses and live a life of "prayer and penance" after a Vatican investigation into allegations he sexually abused seminarians decades ago.

The decision marked the first major abuse penalty approved by Benedict as pope, and showed he was not afraid of pursuing prelates who enjoyed particular favor with his predecessor, John Paul II.

In the United States, sex abuse cases have shaken the church, including 783 new credible claims last year, most of which date back decades, and settlement costs of nearly $1.5 billion since 1950, according to figures compiled from various studies by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The total number of accusations against Catholic clergy in the United States stands at more than 12,000 since 1950.

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