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Benedict asserts church’s own sins pose greatest risk

Cites need for justice in abuse scandal

By Rachel Donadio
New York Times / May 12, 2010

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LISBON — In his strongest and most direct condemnation of the sexual abuse crisis that has swept the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday that the “sins inside the church’’ posed the greatest threat to Catholicism, adding that “forgiveness does not substitute justice.’’

“Attacks on the pope and the church come not only from outside the church, but the suffering of the church comes from inside the church, from sins that exist inside the church. This we have always known but today we see it in a really terrifying way,’’ Benedict told reporters aboard his plane en route to Portugal.

“The greatest persecution of the church does not come from the enemies outside, but is born from sin inside the church,’’ he added. “The church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. And forgiveness does not substitute justice.’’

In his remarks, Benedict appeared to distance himself from other church officials who in recent weeks have criticized the news media for focusing on the sex abuse crisis, which the officials called attacks on the church.

In recent months, the scandal has underscored an ancient institution wrestling with modernity, bringing to light an internal culture clash between traditionalists who value protecting priests and bishops above all else, and those who seek more transparency.

The crisis has also raised questions about how Benedict handled sex abuse as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as bishop in Munich in 1980 when a pedophile priest was moved to his diocese for treatment.

A traditionalist but also a strong voice within the church calling for purification, Benedict met privately with victims of sex abuse on a brief trip to Malta last month his third such meeting, and in March he issued a strong letter to Irish Catholics reeling from reports of widespread sex abuse in Catholic institutions.

But his off-the-cuff remarks yesterday were his most direct since the crisis hit the church in Europe earlier this year. On the plane, Benedict told reporters that the church had to relearn “conversion, prayer, penance.’’

The pope landed in Lisbon yesterday for a four-day trip to Portugal aimed at underscoring several themes of his papacy: the threat posed by secularism in Europe, the dialectic between faith and reason, and the role of ethics in economics.

Portugal has been hard hit by the financial crisis and markets are jittery about its prospects of getting its debt and deficit under control. En route to Lisbon, Benedict told reporters that the financial crisis and the threat to the euro were an opportunity to reintroduce a “moral dimension’’ to economics.

“The events of the last two or three years have demonstrated that the ethical dimension must enter into economic activity,’’ Benedict said. “Now is the time to see that ethics is not something external but internal to economic rationality and pragmatism.’’

In Portugal, Benedict is also expected to underscore the church’s stance on social issues. A largely Catholic country, Portugal legalized abortion in 2008 and its Socialist majority Parliament approved a same-sex marriage bill earlier this year, which the president of Portugal has not yet signed into law.

Today, Benedict is expected to travel to the pilgrim shrine of Fatima on the 10th anniversary of the beatification of two of the three shepherd children who say they saw a vision of the Virgin Mary there in 1917. Pope John Paul II said the Virgin of Fatima saved him from death in an assassination attempt in 1981 on the anniversary of the vision.