At a meeting in St Peters Square with thousands of priests to mark the end of the Year of the Priest, Pope Benedict prayed for an end of scandals.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

At an outdoor vigil in St. Peter’s Square that veered between moments of deep reverence and outbursts of enthusiasm more characteristic of a soccer game, the pope told the gathering of priests, believed to be the largest in history, that celibacy “is made possible by the grace of God … who asks us to transcend ourselves.” Celibacy would be a “scandal,” he said, only in “a world in which God is not there.”

The Pope made it clear that celibacy for priests would be retained.

Benedict’s remarks came in response to a question posed by a Slovakian priest, and he made it clear that he supported continuing the practice of celibacy under his pontificate. He compared it to heterosexual marriage, which he called “the foundation of the Christian culture.”

The pope did not directly address the subject of sexual abuse by priests during the ceremony, although it was raised obliquely by others, both times to loud reactions from the assembled priests. In a salute to Benedict, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, drew loud applause when he said, “For those of us who are lost, we know your holiness has always forgiven and always forgives the pain that some have caused you.”

The vigil came during ceremonies marking the end of the Year of the Priest, which Benedict declared last year. He was scheduled to formally conclude the year with a Mass on Friday morning.

The crowd at St. Peter’s consisted of 10,000 to 15,000 priests, along with several thousand others, including nuns and laypersons. Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said he was fairly certain there had never been so many Catholic priests in one place at one time.

“We’re preparing for the World Cup,” joked Father Mauricio Torres of Santiago, Chile, as he held a Chilean flag aloft.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet