By John-Henry Westen

  WASHINGTON, DC, April 17, 2008 ( – Pope Benedict XVI addressed US Bishops yesterday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  One of the themes of his US visit thus far has been to address the clergy sexual abuse scandal.  However, in addressing the issue the Pope said that the Bishops must address it “within the wider context of sexual mores.”

  He said that the Bishops of the US need to clear the barriers to an encounter with Christ.  “While it is true that this country is marked by a genuinely religious spirit, the subtle influence of secularism can nevertheless color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior,” he said.

  In this context he made poignant remarks regarding promoting anti-life medical practices such as abortion and assisted suicide, and promoting homosexuality and other aberrant sexual behavior.  “Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs?” he asked.  “Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?”

  He added: “Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”

  He directed the Bishops several times to give guidance to those in health care with its “previously unimagined ethical challenges.”

  Addressing the matter of Catholics in the public square the Pope told the Bishops that “it cannot be assumed that all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the Church’s teaching on today’s key ethical questions.”  Thus, he said, “it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life.”

  The Pope said the “state of the family within society” was a “matter of deep concern.”  

“How can we not be dismayed as we observe the sharp decline of the family as a basic element of Church and society?” he said.  “Divorce and infidelity have increased, and many young men and women are choosing to postpone marriage or to forego it altogether. To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond, or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person.”

  He continued: “Hence we have an alarming decrease in the number of Catholic marriages in the United States together with an increase in cohabitation, in which the Christ-like mutual self-giving of spouses, sealed by a public promise to live out the demands of an indissoluble lifelong commitment, is simply absent. In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.”

  Quoting John Paul II, he said, “The person principally responsible in the Diocese for the pastoral care of the family is the Bishop.” 

  Thus he said, “It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favor of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life.”

  Regarding the policies to address the sexual abuse scandal put in place by the US Bishops, the Holy Father said, “If they are to achieve their full purpose, however, the policies and programs you have adopted need to be placed in a wider context.”

  In this regard the Pope insisted that “Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person.”

  He specifically identified the evil of pornography in this regard.  “What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?” he said.  “We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike.”