October 18th, 2010
08:32 AM ET
Catholic priests who sexually abused children "disfigured their ministry" and caused the Catholic Church "profound shame and regret," Pope Benedict XVI wrote Monday, in one of his strongest statements to date on the scandal facing the Vatican. "
What has happened should make us all the more watchful and attentive," the pope wrote in an open letter to men studying to be priests.
But he insisted that it is still good to become a priest and that celibacy still "makes sense."
"Even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission, which remains great and pure," he said.
Campaigners for victims of abuse by priests immediately rejected the statement as "minimizing" and "mischaracterizing" the crisis, which has seen thousands of victims come forward from across western Europe and the United States.
"The pope's pronouncements on abuse are getting worse, not better," said Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
"Using words like 'recently' falsely suggests clergy sex crimes and cover-ups are a relatively new problem. They are not," she said in a statement.
"Using the past tense falsely suggests such crimes and cover ups are behind us. They are not," she said.
"Using words that ignore the stunning recklessness, callousness and deceit by bishops falsely suggest that bishops are innocent in this mess. They are not," she said.
"Tragically, while kids are being molested and crimes are being concealed, the pope deliberately mischaracterizes and minimizes the wrongdoing of the church hierarchy, while passively sitting back waiting for the scandal to explode in yet another nation somewhere on the globe," she said.
Benedict in his letter defended priestly celibacy, which some have said is a reason some priests abuse children.
"All of us know exemplary priests, men shaped by their faith, who bear witness that one can attain to an authentic, pure and mature humanity in this state and specifically in the life of celibacy," he said.
He urged new priests "to practice the fundamental human virtues, with your gaze fixed on the God who has revealed himself in Christ, and to let yourselves be purified by him ever anew."
Three independent investigations have been launched into the abuse of children by priests in Ireland, while police raided the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Belgium and a church-government working group has been set up to tackle the problem in the pope's native Germany.
There have also been accusations of abuse in the United States, Italy, the Netherlands, and other countries.
Critics say the problem is not only the abuse itself, but the cover-up of the problem by bishops.
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