VATICAN CITY – VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI hailed priests on Sunday as gifts to the world for their generous and courageous work, in a speech that didn't mention the clergy sex abuse scandal.
"Dear friends, the priest is a gift from the heart of Christ, a gift for the church and the world," Benedict told faithful in St. Peter's Square.
"If we look at history, we can observe how many pages of authentic spiritual and social renewal have been written with the decisive contribution of Catholic priests, inspired only by passion for the Gospel and for man, for his true religious and civil freedom," he said.
The pope's comments didn't mention the international scandal involving pedophile Catholic priests or the mishandling of that abuse by bishops and even Vatican officials.
Two days earlier, in a ceremony in the square capping three days of pro-priest rallies and prayers, Benedict acknowledged the scandal by begging forgiveness from victims of sexual abuse by priests and made a symbolic pledge to do everything possible to protect children.
In his remarks Sunday from his studio window overlooking the square, Benedict cited Polish priest Jerzy Popieluszko, who was beatified in Warsaw on June 6 as a martyr during the Communist crackdown on the Solidarity freedom movement in Poland the 1980s.
Popieluszko, who was tortured and killed in 1984 by Polish secret police for championing Solidarity, "carried out his generous and courageous ministry next to all those committed to freedom, to the defense of life and its dignity," Benedict said.
Much of the momentum to rid the church of pedophile priests and bring them and those covering up for them to justice has come from faithful in the U.S. and Irish churches.
On Sunday, Benedict asked the faithful to "remember all priests in our prayers" and pray that God "keep them in his grace as faithful friends and ministers."
He also urged Catholics to support their pastors with "wise advice."