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Vatican Tries to Reboot Priesthood Amid Crisis Over Abuses

Pope Francis, left, listens to Cardinal Marc Ouellet's opening address as he attends the opening of a 3-day Symposium on Vocations in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME (AP) — The Vatican opened a three-day conference Thursday on rebooting the Catholic priesthood amid a drop in vocations and a credibility crisis over the “depraved” clergy sex abuse and cover-up scandal.

The conference’s organizer, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, said the symposium’s aim is to break down a “clericalized” concept of the priesthood that is at the root of the scandal. He denounced that priests had assumed a perverted place of power over their flock, when the church is really the “People of God.”

Such a distortion has created a crisis in which “sex abuses are just the visible and perverse tip of the iceberg,” Ouellet said. He cited abuses of power, conscience and spiritual abuse, as other “depraved” behaviors by priests.

He said he hoped the conference would help chart “a new equilibrium” in which women, in particular, play a greater role in the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis opened the conference repeating his call for priests to be close to God, their bishops, other priests and the People of God.

Francis didn’t mention the abuse scandals, but he, too, blamed “clericalism” for distorting the true meaning of the priesthood, which he said is a vocation of service, not power.

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“Clericalism is a distortion because it is based not on closeness (to others) but distance,” he said.

Officially, the conference isn’t about the sex abuse scandal. But Ouellet’s opening speech made clear the issue was an unavoidable backdrop to the discussions.

Another issue informing the conference is the crisis in priestly vocations. The schedule includes sessions dedicated to the questions of priestly celibacy and the role of women in the church.

According to Vatican statistics released this month, there were 410,219 Catholic priests in the world in 2020, down 4,117 from the previous year, the last available data. The steep drops in North America and Europe were offset by increases of new priests in Africa and Asia.

The statistics also showed a decline in the number of seminarians preparing for the priesthood, down from 114,058 in 2019 to 111,855 in 2020.

This article originally appeared here.