Clergy abuse needs conversion, not radical change, pope says

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Pope Benedict XVI waves during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Sept. 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring

VATICAN CITY -- The problem of abuse by clergy is solved more by a spirit of penitence and conversion by its members than by a radical change of church structures, Pope Benedict XVI said.

He made his comments Sept. 8 during his weekly general audience at the Vatican's Paul VI hall.

The pope briefly left the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo to give his audience talk to about 7,000 pilgrims from all over the world.

He continued his talk from last week on the life of St. Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century German mystic. He called her a "great nun" who used her gifts to "work for the renewal of the church," which was experiencing troubles similar to those of today.

In St. Hildegard's time, there were calls for radical reform of the church to fight the problem of abuses made by the clergy, the pope said.

However, she "bitterly reproached demands to subvert the very nature of the church" and reminded people that "a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change in the structures as much as with a sincere spirit of penitence" and conversion, the pope said.

He said she urged the faithful, especially the clergy and monastic communities, to live holy and virtuous lives.

"This is a message we must never forget," he said. He called on the Holy Spirit to help "raise up wise, holy and courageous women whose God-given gifts will enrich the life of the church in our own time."

Pope Benedict praised St. Hildegard, who "brought a woman's insight to the mysteries of the faith."

Her work shows how "even theology can receive the distinctive contribution of women, because they are able to speak of God and the mystery of faith with their distinctive intelligence and insight," he said.

The pope encouraged female theologians to continue their special contribution to the church in a spirit of fidelity and by enriching their reflections with prayer.

He called for greater study into the works of St. Hildegard and other medieval Christian mystics, which he said remain partly unexplored.

The pope also remarked on his upcoming trip to Great Britain, saying he was "very much looking forward" to what will be "truly joyful celebrations."

He thanked everyone involved in preparing for his Sept. 16-19 trip to London, Birmingham and the Scottish cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Beatifying Cardinal John Henry Newman "will be a particular joy for me," the pope said, because "this truly great Englishman lived an exemplary priestly life."

Through his life and extensive writings, the 19th-century theologian "made a lasting contribution to church and society," the pope said. He added it was his hope that more people learn about Cardinal Newman and "benefit from his gentle wisdom and be inspired by is example of integrity and holiness of life."

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Editor's Note: The text of the pope's audience remarks in English are posted online at:

The text of the pope's audience remarks in Spanish are posted online at:

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