The sexual abuse of minors is a "countersign" to the Gospel of Life, and is a cause of "deep shame," Benedict XVI said in his address to the bishops of the United States.
The Pope spoke to the some 350 bishops today in the crypt of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Originally planned as a private meeting, a subsequent decision was made to allow in a limited number of press representatives.
Speaking directly of the sexual abuse crisis, the Holy Father recounted, "Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior."
"As you strive to eliminate this evil wherever it occurs, you may be assured of the prayerful support of God's people throughout the world," he added.
The Pontiff praised the bishops for giving priority to "showing compassion and care" to the sexually abused. "It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged."
Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the episcopal conference, said in introductory remarks that sexual abuse cases were "sometimes very badly handled."
Benedict XVI, repeating the cardinal's comment, added: "Now that the scale and gravity of the problem is more clearly understood, you have been able to adopt more focused remedial and disciplinary measures and to promot! e a safe environment that gives greater protection to young people.
"While it must be remembered that the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work in bringing the liberating message of the Gospel to the people entrusted to their care, it is vitally important that the vulnerable always be shielded from those who would cause harm.
"In this regard, your efforts to heal and protect are bearing great fruit not only for those directly under your pastoral care, but for all of society."
Benedict XVI added that it was also necessary to put the sexual abuse crisis into a wider context.
"Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships," he said. "They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person."
The Pope asked: "What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?
"We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike."
The Pontiff said all have a part to play in promoting authentic religious values, including the media and entertainment industries.
"Truly caring about young people and the future of our civilization means recognizing our responsibility to promote and live by the authentic moral values which alone enable the human person to flourish," he added.
Addressing the bishops in particular, the Holy Father said, "It falls to you, as pastors modeled upon Christ, the Good Shepherd, to proclaim this message loud and clear, and thus to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores.
"Moreover, by acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your dioceses, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined, collective response." (Zenit.org).-