Pope seen undeterred by abuse scandal, reform calls

PARIS Mon Mar 29, 2010 2:32pm EDT

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead the Palm Sunday mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican March 28, 2010. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead the Palm Sunday mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican March 28, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

PARIS (Reuters) - The sex abuse scandals lashing the Vatican have led to calls for an end to priestly celibacy, a cleanout of the Catholic Church hierarchy and the resignation of Pope Benedict, but the pope seems unlikely to alter his approach.

The demands, widely aired in the media, are so far removed from the way Benedict works that abuse victims and other critics who raise them seem bound to be disappointed.

The sex abuse saga, while shameful enough to make Benedict issue several apologies to victims, has many aspects that apparently convince him he can continue to tackle the problem quietly but firmly, without undue fanfare.

"He will plod along undeterred," said Rev. Vincent Twomey, an Irish theologian who has known the pope for 37 years. "He takes note of things, but he's not a magician. He works steadily ... I think he'll weather the storm."

The pope signaled a determination to set his own course on Sunday in a sermon saying faith helps lead "toward the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion."

The key to deciphering Benedict's approach, Vatican experts say, is his earlier role in confronting what he calls the "filth in the Church." His tendency to ignore short-term setbacks for long-term gains also plays a part.

"He has a strong sense of the office of the pope," said University of Virginia historian Rev. Gerald Fogarty. "In a situation like that, you don't show weakness."


Until the mid-1990s, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger seemed to share a widespread view in the hierarchy that sexual misconduct by priests -- even pedophilia -- could be cured by proper doses of Christian forgiveness and modern therapy.

"The Church looked on it as a sin and psychologists looked on it as a curable disease," Fogarty said. Scientific views changed in the 1980s, but the Church failed to keep up.

Documents published by the New York Times last week show the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the powerful Vatican department Ratzinger headed before his election as pope, did not react swiftly or strongly when asked in 1996 to approve a Church trial against a flagrantly abusive priest.

But around that time, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn revealed on Sunday, Ratzinger also sought a full inquiry into the previous Vienna archbishop removed on sexual abuse charges. But other prelates in the Curia persuaded then Pope John Paul that a probe would only cause more embarrassment in the media.

When the CDF was made responsible for handling sex abuse cases in 2001, Ratzinger sent bishops a letter now criticized outside the hierarchy because it called for the usual secrecy in such cases. Within the Church, though, it was seen as an alarm bell announcing that Rome finally took abuse seriously.

"This changed the tendency in canon law to assume the innocence of the priest," Twomey explained. "The bar for sacking a priest used to be pretty high. Now some say it's too low."


Since his election in 2005, Benedict has further lowered the Vatican wall of denial by apologizing for sexual abuse by priests and meeting victims in the United States and Australia.

He retired the head of an influential order of priests because of allegations -- long rumored but overlooked under John Paul -- that he had sexually abused seminarians.

While Benedict's record in the abuse saga has not been blameless, his supporters see him in the Vatican vanguard in tackling the problem and say he has reason to feel that continuing on this slow but steady path is the best option.

This is obviously not a widespread view in the media and public opinion in countries like Ireland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands where abuse scandals are now raging.

It's not undisputed in the Church either, where Benedict's critics see the crisis damaging his role as a moral voice in the world and raising wider issues of authority in the Church.

Rev. John Pawlikowski, professor of ethics at the Chicago Theological Union, said the Catholic hierarchy traditionally expects to be treated as a moral authority while modern societies respect those who show real moral leadership.

"The Vatican has to understand that the new challenge is to move from moral authority to moral leadership," he said.

"Moral leadership doesn't come just because someone gives you a purple cap, a red one or a white one," he said, citing the colors of the skullcaps worn by bishops, archbishops and popes.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (11)
melpol wrote:
Only an International Organization of Pedophile Hunters can save our children. Its millions of investigators would be given the license to shine their lights into the darkest closet and expose the most hidden pervert. Interviewing children for signs of foul play would lead to uncovering the names of countless pedophiles whose trust was never doubted. The costs of financing this organization will be high but the body of each child is priceless and sacred.

Mar 29, 2010 2:59pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
gjraf wrote:
Pedophilia is not unique to the Catholic church. Recently a pole was published that showed over 2600 cases of pedophilia amongst public school educators in the USA over the last 5 years. I am sure that these statistics hold true for every country in the world. This is far more than anything the Catholic clergy has ever been been accused of. It should also be noted that the majority of the Church’s problems occured before 1990.

The Catholic church has been working very hard to identify and correct all past wrongs. Pope Benedict has been the leader in a zero tolerance movement to rid the Church of clergy that are accused of pedophilia. It has been very open with it’s findings and has shared all facts with the authorities. Many years ago it was thought by doctors and psychologists that pedophilia could be treated. This was found to not be true. Once this became a fact. The Church has changed course and now has been on a course of zero tolerance.

Pope Benedict is a great scholar and Christian!

Mar 29, 2010 3:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Typical wrote:
Pope Benedict is a pedophile enabler and should be imprisoned as such.

The lunacy will stop when some priest molests the child of a high official, until then, all children are fair game.

Yeah, for sure, there are child abusers everywhere, but that doesn’t let the freaks in the Catholic Church off one bit.

Let’s say it, if you are a Cotholic priest and have dedicated your life to God, then do the thing that you know is right, turn in the child molesters, and turn in those who protect and enable them.

If you can’t find the courage to do the right thing then take off the cloth and become a wino, it’s far less harmful to mankind.

Mar 29, 2010 4:22pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.