The Year for Priests brings great joy to the Church and she thanks the Lord for having inspired the Holy Father to announce it. All the information which is presented here in Rome concerning the numerous initiatives taken by the local Churches throughout the world, in order to put this special year into effect, are proof of how this Year has been so well received and – we can add – how it has responded to a true and deep longing of priests and the entire People of God. It was time to give special attention, acknowledgement and commitment to the great, hardworking and irreplaceable presbyterium, and to each individual priest of the Church.
It is true that, albeit proportionately small in number, some priests have committed horrible and most serious crimes of sexual abuse upon minors, deeds that we must condemn and rebuke in an absolute and uncompromising manner. Those individuals must answer for their actions before God and before tribunals, including the civil courts. Nevertheless, we also pray that they might achieve spiritual conversion and receive pardon from God. The Church, for her part, is determined neither to hide nor to minimize such crimes. Above all we are on the side of the victims and want to support their recovery and their offended rights.
On the other hand, it is absolutely unacceptable to use the crimes of the few in order to sully the entire ecclesial body of priests. Those who do so commit a profound injustice. In the course the Year for Priests, the Church seeks to say this to human society. Anyone possessed of common sense and good will knows it to be the truth.
That being necessarily said, we turn now to you, dear priests. We want to repeat to you, yet again, that we recognise that which you are and that which you do in the Church and in society. The Church loves you, admires you and respects you. You are, moreover, a joy for our Catholic people throughout the world and it welcomes you and supports you, especially in theses times of suffering.
Within two months we will have reached the conclusion of the Year for Priests. The Pope, dear priests, invites you from the heart to come to Rome from every part of the world for this conclusion, on the 9th, 10th and 11th June next. From every country in the world! Shouldn’t we expect many thousands of them from the countries nearest Rome? Do not, then, hesitate to respond to the heartfelt and cordial invitation of the Holy Father. Come to Rome and God will bless you. The Pope wants to strengthen the priests of the Church. Their presence in large numbers in St. Peter’s Square will be a proactive and responsible way for priests to show themselves ready and unintimidated for the service of the humanity entrusted to them by Jesus Christ. Their visibility in the Square, before the modern world, will be a proclamation of their being sent not to condemn the world, but to save it (cf. Jn. 3: 17 and 12: 47). In such a context even a large number will have a special significance.
There is yet another particular motivation for the presence in Rome of numerous priests for the conclusion of the Year for Priests, which is found at the heart of the Church today. One speaks of offering to our beloved Pope Benedict XVI our solidarity, our support, our confidence, and our unconditional communion, in the face of the frequent attacks direct towards Him, at this moment of time, in the field of his decisions with regard to clerics involved in crimes of the sexual abuse of minors. The accusations directed towards Him are obviously unjust, and it has been shown that no one has done as much as Benedict XVI to condemn and to combat properly such crimes. Therefore, the large presence of priests in the Square with Him will be a determined rejection of the unjust attacks of which he is a victim. So then, come as well to publicly support the Holy Father.
The conclusion of the Year for Priests will not be, properly speaking, a conclusion, but a new beginning. We, the People of God and its shepherds, want to thank the Lord for this privileged period of prayer and reflection on the priesthood. At the same time we want to be alert to what the Holy Spirit wants to say to us. Meanwhile we will return to the exercise of our mission in the Church and in the world with renewed joy and with the conviction that God, the Lord of history, remains with us, both in crises and in new times.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Priests, intercede for us and inspire us in the following of her Son Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Rome, 12th April 2010
Cardinal Claudio Hummes
Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy