Speaking on December 15 to Pope Benedict XVI and the leaders of the Roman Curia, the preacher to the pontifical household called for fasting and penance throughout the Church in reparation for the “abominations” of sexual abuse.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, preached the first in an annual series of Advent meditations to the Pope and his aides on Friday morning in the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the apostolic palace. In a powerful call for repentance, he said that the Church should cry out to God for forgiveness because of the clerical scandals of recent years. He suggested a day of fasting and prayer as a visible sign of that repentance.
The papal preacher’s message seemed to reflect the thoughts of Pope Benedict himself. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had jurisdiction over the discipline of priests involved in sexual abuse, and associates reported that the future Pontiff was deeply shocked by the breadth of the scandal. Shortly before his election to the papacy, in his Good Friday meditations on March 24, 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger said: “How much filth there is in the Church, even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Him!”
Father Cantalamessa, in his Advent meditation, was especially firm in his condemnation of those who, having been caught up in the scandal, have later gained publicity by telling of their experiences, and implying that their bishops were at fault for inadequate supervision. That approach, the preacher said, demonstrates a frightening “hardness of heart.” He appeared to be referring to case such as that of Oliver O’Grady, the defrocked Irish priest and convicted child molester whose confession forms the basis for the film, Deliver Us from Evil.
The Beatitudes are the theme of this year’s Advent meditations, and the Capuchin preacher centered his first remarks on Christ’s precept: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Pain and suffering are inevitable in this life, he said, and man can only find lasting comfort in Christ.
Father Cantalamessa said that many modern interpreters of the Bible sometimes add to their own suffering, and the suffering of those who follow them, by replacing the real Jesus with an abstract and sentimental figure.
Citing the Pope’s forthcoming book on the person of Jesus, the preacher argued that such an image of Jesus cannot inspire true faith or bring real comfort.
The Advent meditations are traditionally scheduled for each Friday during the Advent season. This year, because the feast of the Immaculate Conception superseded the first Friday of Advent, only two meditations are scheduled before Christmas, with the second and final one set for December 22.
Read the fulltext of Fr. Cantalamessa's homily here.