Pope Benedict urged the faithful not to leave the Roman Catholic Church on Thursday as he began a four-day visit to Germany, where record numbers have quit the pews in protest against clerical sex abuse of youths. The pope, on his third and toughest trip to his homeland, said on the flight from Rome he understood why some people — especially victims and their loved ones — were “scandalised by these crimes” and say “this is no longer my church”.
But he asked them to see the Church comprised both good and bad, and was struggling to right the wrongs committed in its ranks. Germany has been rocked by the clerical sex scandals that have swept across Europe in the past two years. “The Church is a net of the Lord that pulls in good fish and bad fish,” he said, using the Gospel image of Jesus as a fisherman. “We have to learn to live with the scandals and work against the scandals from inside the great net of the Church.”
A record 181,000 German Catholics officially quit the Church last year, for the first time higher than the number of Protestants leaving their churches and of baptisms into the Catholic Church. The Church in Germany has received almost 600 requests for compensation for victims of sexual and physical abuse, while a victims’ association estimates that more than 2,000 people were mistreated by Catholic priests in recent decades.
In the first of several protests expected during the day, four victims of sexual abuse gathered at the Brandenburg Gate around a large statue of a nun holding a stick to beat children with. On it was written the motto “Never Again!”