THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW
By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
Like most bishops, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, did not understand the sexual abuse crisis when it first appeared. He underestimated its extent and scope.
But over time, he grew in understanding as he watched what was happening in the United States and as he learned from reports from the American bishops. He got it faster than other Vatican officials, including Pope John Paul II. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was forced to read the files on these priests when bishops asked for their dismissal from the priesthood.
As a Vatican official, he supported the American bishops when in 2002 they adopted a zero tolerance rule so that no abusive priest could be returned to ministry. He also condemned the abuse and expressed sorrow when he visited the United States in 2008, the high point of which was his meeting with victims of abuse.
The question is should he be judged by what he thought and did in the past or by what he thinks and does today. Clearly he can continue to grow and do more to deal with the sexual abuse crisis. For example, he should make zero tolerance the law for the whole church and tell bishops around the world to strictly enforce it. He can also continue to apologize and meet with more victims as he has promised.
It will also be necessary for him to encourage some bishops to take a bullet for the church, to admit they did wrong, apologize and resign. If some bishops had done this in the United States, the crisis would not have gone on as long as it did.
Should Benedict resign? Such decisions are above my pay grade. Frankly, I am afraid that he understands the crisis better than most cardinals, so his stepping down could be a step backwards.
Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is a Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University.
By Thomas J. Reese |
March 31, 2010; 10:09 AM ET
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