The Pope's Speech to the American Cardinals on the Church Crisis

April 24, 2002


ROME, April 23 - Following is the text of Pope John Paul
II's speech yesterday to American cardinals in the Vatican:

Let me assure you first of all that I greatly appreciate
the effort you are making to keep the Holy See, and me
personally, informed regarding the complex and difficult
situation which has arisen in your country in recent
months. I am confident that your discussions here will bear
much fruit for the good of the Catholic people of the
United States.

You have come to the house of the successor of Peter, whose
task it is to confirm his brother bishops in faith and
love, and to unite them around Christ in the service of
God's people. The door of this house is always open to you.
All the more so when your communities are in distress.

Like you, I too have been deeply grieved by the fact that
priests and religious, whose vocation it is to help people
live holy lives in the sight of God, have themselves caused
such suffering and scandal to the young. Because of the
great harm done by some priests and religious, the church
herself is viewed with distrust, and many are offended at
the way in which the church's leaders are perceived to have
acted in this matter.

The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard
wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also
an appalling sin in the eyes of God. To the victims and
their families, wherever they may be, I express my profound
sense of solidarity and concern.

It is true that a generalized lack of knowledge of the
nature of the problem and also at times the advice of
clinical experts led bishops to make decisions which
subsequent events showed to be wrong. You are now working
to establish more reliable criteria to ensure that such
mistakes are not repeated. At the same time, even while
recognizing how indispensable these criteria are, we cannot
forget the power of Christian conversion, that radical
decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which
reaches to the depths of a person's soul and can work
extraordinary change.

Neither should we forget the immense spiritual, human and
social good that the vast majority of priests and religious
in the United States have done and are still doing. The
Catholic church in your country has always promoted human
and Christian values with great vigor and generosity, in a
way that has helped to consolidate all that is noble in the
American people.

A great work of art may be blemished, but its beauty
remains; and this is a truth which any intellectually
honest critic will recognize.

To the Catholic communities in the United States, to their
pastors and members, to the men and women religious, to
teachers in Catholic universities and schools, to American
missionaries in all parts of the world, go the wholehearted
thanks of the entire Catholic church and the personal
thanks of the bishop of Rome.

The abuse of the young is a grave symptom of a crisis
affecting not only the church but society as a whole. It is
a deep-seated crisis of sexual morality, even of human
relationships, and its prime victims are the family and the
young. In addressing the problem of abuse with clarity and
determination, the church will help society to understand
and deal with the crisis in its midst.

It must be absolutely clear to the Catholic faithful, and
to the wider community, that bishops and superiors are
concerned, above all else, with the spiritual good of
souls. People need to know that there is no place in the
priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the
young. They must know that bishops and priests are totally
committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of
sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the
priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of
marriage and family life.

We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a
purification of the entire Catholic community, a
purification that is urgently needed if the church is to
preach more effectively the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all
its liberating force. Now you must ensure that where sin
increased, grace will all the more abound. So much pain, so
much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier
episcopate, and a holier church.

God alone is the source of holiness, and it is to him above
all that we must turn for forgiveness, for healing and for
the grace to meet this challenge with uncompromising
courage and harmony of purpose. Like the good shepherd of
last Sunday's Gospel, pastors must go among their priests
and people as men who inspire deep trust and lead them to
restful waters.

I beg the Lord to give the bishops of the United States the
strength to build their response to the present crisis upon
the solid foundations of faith and upon genuine pastoral
charity for the victims, as well as for the priests and the
entire Catholic community in your country. And I ask
Catholics to stay close to their priests and bishops, and
to support them with their prayers at this difficult time.