CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
Pope Benedict has told seminarians the priestly ministry is crucial to helping people see God’s presence in the world.
VATICAN CITY – In a letter to the world's seminarians, Pope Benedict said that in the face of recent moral failings of clergy, the world needs priests and pastors who can serve God and bring God to others.
The pope encouraged seminarians to overcome any doubts about the value of the priesthood and priestly celibacy that may have been prompted by priests who "disfigured" their ministry by sexually abusing children.
"Even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission," he said.
The papal letter, released at the Vatican Oct. 18, was an unexpected postscript to the Year for Priests, which ended in June.
The text began on a remarkably personal note, with the pope recalling the development of his own vocation during the Second World War.
"When in December 1944 I was drafted for military service, the company commander asked each of us what we planned to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest," the pope recalled.
"The lieutenant replied: 'Then you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany priests are no longer needed.'"
"I knew that this 'new Germany' was already coming to an end, and that, after the enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever," he wrote.
Today, he said, many people are no longer aware of God and instead seek escape in euphoria and violence. The priesthood is again viewed as outmoded, yet priestly ministry is crucial in helping people see God's presence in the world.
The pope said the sex abuse scandal shed a light on the need for the seminary to help form "the right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul" among future priests.
"This also involves the integration of sexuality into the whole personality," he said. "When it is not integrated within the person, sexuality becomes banal and destructive."
He expressed gratitude for the many exemplary priests who demonstrate that ordained ministers can live a life of celibacy and give witness to an "authentic, pure and mature humanity."
Growth in human maturity was one of several elements the pope underlined in priestly formation. The others were:
The seminary as a place of study. The pope said today's priest must be familiar with Scripture, the writings of Church fathers, the teachings of the councils, canon law and the various branches of theology.
The seminary as community. Because vocations today arise in very diverse situations, candidates for the priesthood "often live on very different spiritual continents." It is important that the seminary draw such experiences together, advancing "above and beyond differences of spirituality."