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Pope Laments Sexual Abuse by Priests

July 28, 2002

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TORONTO (AP) _ Pope John Paul II said Sunday the sexual abuse scandals rocking his church caused ``a deep sense of sadness and shame,″ but he urged Catholic youth to support the vast majority of priests who do good.

In his first speech to the public on the matter this year, the pope told an estimated 800,000 people at a soggy, muddy World Youth Day Mass that young believers should not let the actions of a few sway their devotion.

``If you love Jesus, love the Church. Do not be discouraged by the sins and failings of some of her members,″ John Paul said.

While ``the harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame,″ the vast majority of priests and other church figures are people ``whose only wish is to serve and do good,″ he added.

``Be close to them and support them,″ the pontiff said to cheers from the vast crowd basking in sunshine after spending all night outdoors and getting drenched by morning rainstorms.

Since January, the Catholic Church in the United States has been engulfed by sexual abuse accusations, and recent cases have cropped up in Germany, Ireland and the pope’s native Poland.

John Paul’s comments came as Canadian news media reported the arrests last week of two New Jersey priests in a police sting involving a gay prostitution ring in Montreal. A spokesman for the Newark, N.J., diocese said both men resigned from their duties after their arrests.

With his condemnation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in his earlier speeches and his mention of the sex abuse scandal Sunday, the pope addressed two of the major concerns of American Catholics.

Prior to Sunday, his only statements since the sex abuse scandals erupted in the Boston archdiocese in January had been a pre-Easter letter to priests and a speech to cardinals summoned to the Vatican in April.

During the week of World Youth Day activities preceding Sunday’s final Mass, some pilgrims said they wanted John Paul to discuss the sexual abuse issue to ease their concerns and questions about the negative publicity and what it meant for the church.

``I think it’s very important that he decided to mention it,″ said Lorenzo Schiavone, 42, of St. David’s Parish in Toronto. ``It shows the commitment of the whole church and at the same time that anyone in a family can make mistakes.″

David Clohessy, U.S. national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called the comments a ``missed opportunity.″

``A few words of apology from someone of his stature could help perhaps hundreds of people to feel some sense of healing,″ Clohessy said, adding that the pontiff’s comments seemed to focus more on suffering priests than on clerical sex abuse victims.

``There’s not one word about victims. Not one,″ Clohessy said in a phone interview from his Missouri home. ``I would have hoped he would have encouraged young people to believe, listen to and support the victims as well as support the priests.″

John Paul spoke to a huge, damp congregation at a former airfield in north Toronto converted into an outdoor church with a 160-foot cross towering above.

A throng that Vatican officials said Toronto police estimated to number 800,000 stretched as far as the eye could see, waving flags from every corner of the world, cheered wildly when the ``popemobile″ made its way through with the pontiff sitting and waving his arms in greeting.

Most of the congregation spent the night at the site and woke up wet from a dawn storm, and a steady rain that began later delayed the pope’s arrival aboard a military helicopter by 20 minutes. Skies above cleared as the pope began the Mass, though more clouds gathered on the horizon.

Those who stayed overnight said the storm made things messy and uncomfortable, but they didn’t seem to mind.

``When it stopped, we all woke up in puddles,″ said Cynthia Lashinski, 17, still in her sleeping bag with plastic on the bottom in a futile attempt to ward off the wet.

During a 2 1/2-hour prayer service at the vigil Saturday night, the 82-year-old pontiff said the new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios: the sight of pilgrims in Rome for the Holy Year, and the ``terrible terrorist attack on New York, an image that is sort of an icon of a world in which hostility and hatred seem to prevail.″

His voice strong despite symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and other health problems, John Paul urged young people to be the builders of a ``civilization of love″ and learn ``to build brick by brick, the city of God within the city of man.″

John Paul began his 11-day trip, which goes on to Guatemala and Mexico, by determinedly walking with a cane, an aide holding his left arm, at initial appearances in Canada. On Saturday night and again at Sunday’s Mass, he came on stage on a cart pushed by aides.

More than 200,000 young Catholics from 170 nations registered for this year’s World Youth Day, a decline from previous years. The pope inaugurated the event in 1985 as a way to invigorate devotion among the young.

There was no lack of enthusiasm among the multitudes who walked for miles to the vigil in midday summer heat Saturday, many huddling under overpasses and in the shade of trucks to avoid the sun. Some welcomed water sprayed on them by people on highway bridges, and paramedics on golf carts cruised alongside to assist those overcome by the high humidity and temperatures.

``You feel the world is coming all together for the same reason,″ said 14-year-old Annalynn David of Sacramento, Calif.

Lisa Hieronynus, 27, of New York City said the huge numbers bolstered the faith of those gathering here as the Roman Catholic church tries to emerge from the sex-abuse scandals in the United States.

``It’s not every day that you get to experience this kind of solidarity,″ she said. ``A lot of people were shaken and a lot of people woke up. This sort of event will help the pope in the long run.″

The pople files to Guatemala on Monday, then will go to Mexico to complete the 97th of his nearly quarter-century papacy. While aides had expressed concern that the trip would be too much for his declining health, the pope has surprised all by looking stronger and speaking more clearly than in recent months.

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