Pope’s pastor calls for atonement on priest abuse

Times Staff Writer

The pope’s official pastor Friday called for a worldwide day of fasting and penance to seek forgiveness for the sexual abuse by some priests of “the smallest members” of the Roman Catholic Church.

Speaking to Pope Benedict XVI and his top associates in a pre-Christmas sermon, Father Raniero Cantalamessa said that the church had paid a high price for “abominations” committed by abusive priests but that deeper atonement was necessary, including a public expression of sorrow and solidarity with victims.

“The time has come to do the most important thing: cry before God,” Cantalamessa said.

As preacher of the papal household, his formal title, Cantalamessa is the only cleric who pronounces sermons to the pope. In his meditation Friday, he touched on a topic that, while receiving enormous attention in the United States, is only occasionally addressed in public in Rome.


The sexual abuse scandal exploded in 2002, affecting dioceses throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and Asia, and involving scores of priests and victims. It was revealed that church leaders often transferred pedophile priests rather than turn them in to authorities.

More recently, the church has been hit with expensive lawsuits in numerous jurisdictions. This month, the Los Angeles Archdiocese agreed to pay $60 million to 45 people who said they had been abused by priests.

Cantalamessa said that beyond monetary reparations, the church must work to “renew its heart” and “reconcile souls” with honest confrontation of the sins committed against children.

He urged Benedict to proclaim “a day of fasting and penance, at the local and national level, where the problem was particularly strong.”

However, a leading victims organization said such demonstrations would not solve the problem. “Decisive actions protect kids, not nice gestures,” Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in a statement sent to The Times. “Until the pope disciplines corrupt bishops, this devastating crisis will continue.”

Before he became pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger decried the “filth” that had entered the clergy, an apparent allusion to sexual abuse. Since assuming the papacy 20 months ago, he has addressed the problem more forcefully than his predecessor, John Paul II. He disciplined an elderly Mexican bishop who had dodged allegations for decades, and he urged bishops from Ireland, where abuse has dogged numerous parishes, to work to rebuild the “trust and confidence” of their parishioners.