The Pope has described priests as “gifts to the world” – as it emerged that five clergymen had been suspended in Italy following allegations of sex abuse.
By Nick Pisa in Rome
Published: 6:44PM BST 13 Jun 2010
The pontiff made his remarks to a packed St Peter’s Square in a bid to mend bridges following a series of sex scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic church in recent weeks.
It is thought that the Pope was aware of the five suspensions which involved one 51-year-old priest and another four in their sixties, none of which were named.
In his sermon Pope Benedict said: “The priest is a gift from the heart of Christ, a gift for the church and the world.
“If we look at history, we can observe how many pages of authentic spiritual and social renewal have been written with the decisive contribution of Catholic priests, inspired only by passion for the Gospel and for man, for his true religious and civil freedom.”
The Pope did not make any mention of the sex abuse scandal which has hit countries such as Ireland, Germany, Austria and the United States and led to several bishops resigning.
Pope Benedict has himself been drawn into the scandal, following an allegation from when he was Archbishop of Munich in the 1980’s, where he is accused of “dragging his heels” over a known paedophile priest.
In his sermon the Pope made no reference to the scandals but on Friday he did say at the end of a ceremony to mark the Year of the Priest that he “begged for forgiveness” as a result of abuse by priests.
He added that he would do everything possible to protect children from paedophile priests as he attempted to show he and the Vatican wanted to show decisiveness in tackling the problem.
As he spoke it emerged that four priests from the Gallipoli area of southern Italy had been suspended by their bishop monsignor Domenico Caliandro following claims of abuse. Another priest from Caravaggio near Cremona was also suspended.
Monsignor Dante Lafranconi, bishop of Cremona, confirmed that the priest had been suspended and asked to attend a “rehabilitation course” and also pointed out no official police complaint had been made.
Earlier this month the Vatican’s chief prosecutor in dealing with abusing priests warned that they “faced the fires of Hell for their sins.”