The Pope made some important comments on his trip to Portugal last week which have a fairly direct bearing on the abuse scandals so much in the news these days. Benedict’s response, as we might expect, touches on the spiritual aspects of the scandal and has some pretty deep implications for all of us. Here’s what the Holy Father said:
[A]ttacks against the Pope or the Church do not only come from outside; rather the sufferings of the Church come from within, from the sins that exist in the Church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way: the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from enemies on the outside, but is born from the sin within the church, the Church therefore has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the need for justice. Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice. In one word we have to re-learn these essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues. That is how we respond, and we need to be realistic in expecting that evil will always attack, from within and from outside, but the forces of good are also always present, and finally the Lord is stronger than evil and the Virgin Mary is for us the visible maternal guarantee that the will of God is always the last word in history.
In earlier comments, too, Benedict talked about the need for doing penance, something fundamental to our identities as Catholics but which, I have to admit, I don’t normally give much thought to. Among my generation of Catholics I’m probably not alone in being a little clueless about what penance is or why we do it.