Thursday, April 17, 4:25 p.m.
Pope Benedict XVI condemned the sexual abuse of minors by American clergy and prayed for forgiveness on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church during a standing-room-only mass at Nationals Park Thursday morning.
The sexual abuse scandal has been a sore spot for the Catholic Church in America since the crisis erupted in 2002. During his first papal trip to the United States, Benedict has made the controversy one of his key talking points.
“No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse,” said Benedict, who became the leader of Roman Catholic Church in 2005.
“Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt,” he added.
Even before the pope touched down in the U.S. on Tuesday, Benedict told reporters traveling on his plane that he was “deeply ashamed” by the behavior of pedophile priests. On Wednesday, the pontiff continued the discussion on the sex scandal with American bishops gathered at Catholic University.
During his homily, Benedict said the Catholic Church is making significant progress in preventing harm against children.
“Great efforts have already been made to deal honestly and fairly with this tragic situation, and to ensure that children – whom our Lord loves so deeply and who are our greatest treasure – can grow up in a safe environment,” he said. “These efforts to protect children must continue.”
Sophomore Alison Knapp, one of about 70 GW students in attendance, said it was important for Benedict to address the scandal.
“It is something that affected the church and I think he was trying to help us through it,” she said.
The papal visit marks the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Catholic Church expansion. In 1808, the only U.S. diocese in Baltimore was divided into the Dioceses of Boston, Louisville, New York and Philadelphia. Now, there are almost 200 dioceses in the United States.
The pontiff attributed the enduring vitality of the U.S. Catholic Church to the diversity of the American people.
“Two-hundred years later, the Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel,” Benedict said. “At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole.”
The pope took time throughout the mass to acknowledge the diverse crowd, which included many Hispanics. Several of the songs, prayers and part of the pope’s homily were said in Spanish. Excited exclamations of “viva el papa” could be heard during the services.
“The Church in the United States . has gone growing thanks to the vitality of the testimony of faith of the faithful of Spanish tongue,” Benedict said in Spanish. “Therefore, God calls you to continue contributing to the future of the church in this country and for the diffusion of the Gospel.”
Many of the GW students present at the mass were at awe over the morning’s festivities.
“It is just awesome,” senior Derek Smitt said. “You really can’t explain it.”
Junior Conrad Murphy, grand knight of the GW Knights of Columbus, said it was a unique opportunity to witness the pope celebrate mass in D.C.
“This is the coolest thing ever,” Murphy said. “It is the shepherd of our faith coming here to speak to us.”
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