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In a letter to seminarians around the world today, Pope Benedict has once again denounced abusive priests for causing “profound shame and regret,” while encouraging aspiring clergy to continue their studies and insisting that celibacy still “makes sense.”

An excerpt:

Recently we have seen with great dismay that some priests disfigured their ministry by sexually abusing children and young people. Instead of guiding people to greater human maturity and setting them an example, their abusive behaviour caused great damage for which we feel profound shame and regret. As a result of all this, many people, perhaps even some of you, might ask whether it is good to become a priest; whether the choice of celibacy makes any sense as a truly human way of life. Yet even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission, which remains great and pure. Thank God, all of us know exemplary priests, men shaped by their faith, who bear witness that one can attain to an authentic, pure and mature humanity in this state and specifically in the life of celibacy. Admittedly, what has happened should make us all the more watchful and attentive, precisely in order to examine ourselves earnestly, before God, as we make our way towards priesthood, so as to understand whether this is his will for me.

Critics complain that the letter ignores the role of clergy who have covered up for these crimes, and the abuse that is still being committed. (I continue to scratch my head over the fact that Eastern Catholics and converts can be married priests, along with the possible wave of Anglican clergy expected to take up the Vatican’s offer to become Catholics, rather than remain in a denomination that ordains women and homosexuals.)

The message came a day after Pope Benedict canonized Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop, a 19th century nun who was briefly excommunicated after her order exposed a pedophile priest.

Two steps forward, one step back? Major progress, relative to the church’s usual pace? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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