Pittsburgh bishop denounces furor over pope

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At the Holy Thursday Mass that celebrates the priesthood, Catholic Bishop David Zubik drew a standing ovation for an emotional homily describing his pain over the furor surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's past response to two sex abuse cases.

"There is no way we can mark this great moment in our liturgical year ... without recognizing the elephant in the cathedral," he said. His litany of pain ranged from harm done to victims to what he described as biased media coverage.

"I ache. I'm sick and tired. I'm angry. I'm insulted. I'm confronted by the headlines of newspapers and ongoing stories that seek to once again annihilate the body of Christ," he said, preaching without notes from the pulpit of St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.

"It would be an absolute lie on my part to stand here today to say we bear no responsibility for great sins committed in the past by people who were trusted leaders of the church, by priests, deacons, bishops and others. So that is not what gives me the ache.

"What gives me the ache is not only the hunger and thirst to rush to judgment without an honest look at the facts, but the absolute hatred ... and disrespect for who we are and especially for what we believe."

Two stories have embroiled the pope. One is from the German archdiocese that he led from 1977 to 1982. In 1980 a priest who had molested children was reassigned to a parish days after starting therapy intended to cure him. One of the future pope's aides has claimed full responsibility for that decision, though the archbishop ran the meeting where the assignment was approved.

The second case, from 1996, involved a Wisconsin priest accused of molesting hundreds of deaf students from 1950 to 1974. Because some of the abuse had occurred during confession, the Milwaukee archdiocese wanted to try the case as an abuse of the sacrament of confession, which carries the Vatican's stiffest penalties. Confession cases were handled by the office then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. But officials in that office, citing the priest's advanced age and ill health, didn't approve a canonical trial to laicize him, though he remained banned from ministry.

In an interview, Bishop Zubik said some stories implied that Cardinal Ratzinger had been in charge of sex abuse cases since 1981, when he only took over that duty in 2001. Bishop Zubik credits the pope with being far stronger in his efforts to remove predators than anyone before him.

"The conclusion they're drawing is that the pope is guilty and they're not looking at all the facts," he said.

In his homily, he named many groups who he said his heart ached for. They included "anyone who has been victimized by a priest or deacon or bishop or mother or father or teacher" and for families of those victims "who carry the heavy cross of what their sibling or son or daughter has been through."

He cited faithful priests who live under a cloud of suspicion and Catholics tempted to leave the church due to shame.

"I ache for the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, who ... has spoken out not only on the wrong and the sin, but especially the crime, of abuse," he said.

But all of this pain, he said, comes from the sin that Jesus died to atone for.

"We would not be celebrating the Eucharist today if God did not ache," he said.

He closed his homily with a prayer for priests. The laity rose first in a standing ovation, and were joined by the hundreds of priests who had come to renew their vows of ministry.

Barbara Lewis, a parishioner from Holy Wisdom on the North Side, said she applauded to express her unity with the church.

"I was grateful that the bishop expressed the pain that we parishioners feel for the sorrow we have caused and for the scandal. I'm grateful that he said how much he loved his priests and saw that they are suffering," she said.

Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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