Pope Benedict XVI expressed his “deep sorrow” at the “unspeakable crimes” of clerical child abuse in his homily at Westminster Cathedral today.
The Pope said he hoped that the “shame and humiliation” of these crimes would help to purify the Church, to renew its commitment to young people, and to bring healing to victims.
He said: “Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives.
“I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; and I invite you to offer it to the Lord with trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of victims, the purification of the Church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people.
“I express my gratitude for the efforts being made to address this problem responsibly, and I ask all of you to show your concern for the victims and solidarity with your priests.”
The Pope focused his homily on Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross – appropriately, since Westminster Cathedral, the mother church of England and Wales, is dedicated to the Most Precious Blood.
He said that any visitor to the Cathedral “cannot fail to be struck by the great crucifix dominating the nave, which portrays Christ’s body, crushed by suffering, overwhelmed by sorrow”.
He said the reality of the Eucharist “has always been at the heart of Catholic faith”, and was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent in the 16th century.
He cited England’s Reformation martyrs, saying that devotion to the Eucharist was “a hallmark of Catholicism in these lands”.
Later in the homily the Pope emphasised the “indispensable role of the laity in carrying forward the Church’s mission”. He quoted the Vatican II documents Lumen Gentium and Apostolicam Actuositatem.
He said the Council’s appeal to the lay faithful “to take up their baptismal mission” was an echo of the teachings of Cardinal Newman.
The Pope said: “Let us pray, then, that the Catholics of this land will become ever more conscious of their dignity as a priestly people, called to consecrate the world to God through lives of faith and holiness.”
During the Mass a crowd of 2,500 young people were gathered on the piazza in a hushed silence. The Guardian’s correspondent, Riazat Butt, was with them, and tweeted: “So quiet in the piazza, and the singing is just breathtaking.”
The 300 concelebrating priests inside the cathedral were in red chasubles, to signify Christ’s blood.