- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2002

TORONTO Pope John Paul II told young Catholics yesterday that sexual abuse of children by priests "fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame," but he urged them to support the vast majority of priests who do good in his first public comments on the scandal.
The frail, 82-year-old pope spoke clearly and at times forcefully during the three-hour Mass for World Youth Day, faltering only at the end when he grew visibly tired, slurred some words and lost his place in his text.
He told the estimated 800,000 pilgrims at a muddy outdoor Mass that young believers should not let the actions of a few sway their faith.
"If you love Jesus, love the Church. Do not be discouraged by the sins and failings of some of her members," John Paul said.
"The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame," he said.
"But," he said, emphasizing that word, "think of the vast majority of dedicated priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good.
"Be close to them and support them," the pontiff said to cheers from the vast crowd, which was basking in sunshine after spending all night outside and getting drenched by morning rainstorms.
Since January, the Roman 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. Canada faced a sex-abuse scandal in the 1990s.
About 300 of the 46,000 priests in the United States have been taken off duty this year because of sex-abuse complaints.
David Clohessy, U.S. national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called the pope's comments a "missed opportunity," saying they seemed to focus more on suffering priests than victims of clerical abuse.
"A few words of apology from someone of his stature could help perhaps hundreds of people to feel some sense of healing," he said.
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 homosexual 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 September 11 terrorist attacks in his earlier speeches and his mention of the sex-abuse scandal yesterday, the pope addressed two of the major concerns of American Catholics.
Prior to yesterday, 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 yesterday's closing 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 was a good thing he mentioned it," Janelle Morin, 16, said during Communion. "The pope has really done all he could on the issue. Catholicism is founded on principles of honesty and truth. I have faith in the Church. I know the bishops are protective and wouldn't do anything to intentionally harm us."
A huge congregation, including Prime Minister Jean Chretien, sprawled over a former airfield in north Toronto that had been converted into an outdoor church with a 160-foot cross towering above. Vatican officials said Toronto police estimated the crowd at 800,000.
Waving flags from every corner of the world, people cheered wildly when the "popemobile" made its way through the crowd with the pontiff sitting and waving his arms in greeting. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. called it the largest crowd in Canadian history.
Most of the congregation had spent the night at the site and woke up wet from a dawn storm. A steady rain that began later delayed the pope's arrival aboard a military helicopter by 20 minutes, but the skies over the site cleared as the pope began the Mass.
"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.
More than 200,000 young Catholics from 170 nations registered for this year's World Youth Day, which was down from previous festivals, which began by the pope in 1985 as a way to invigorate devotion among the young. He announced yesterday that the next World Youth Day would be in Cologne, Germany, in 2005.
The pope flies to Guatemala today, then will go to Mexico to complete the 97th foreign trip of his nearly 24-year 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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