Benedict’s failure and opportunity

THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW By Thomas J. Reese, S.J. Like most bishops, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, did … Continued


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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  • FarnazMansouri

    From RNSThe AP says the Vatican is planning to claim diplomatic immunity in response to a Kentucky lawsuit that charges U.S. bishops who allowed abuse to fester were employees of the Vatican. The outcome of that appeal will have worldwide implications.

  • rmkraus

    Father Reese, I am surprised that your pay is based upon the decisions which you make . . . or do not make.Who out there at Woodstock is in a pay grade which would enable that person to answer the question about Pope Benedict resigning? What if Susan Jacoby were asked the question?R M Kraus

  • dboc_991

    Hey father, is abortion above your pay grade? So you float that he should resign then act like “I didn’t say it”. The more I hear from the Jesuits, the less I like the Jesuits. And this coming from boy with Jesuit education.

  • EugenePagano

    Father Reese,Your observations remind of the change in Alessandro Cardinal Farnese, a stereotypically worldly Renaissance cardinal who became Pope Paul III, a vigorous reformer.

  • areyousaying

    Are you saying you can silence me by censoring the words I write or by banning me?It may be true in your small, delusional do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do world but it’s not true in reality. Your victims, like me, will not longer be intimidated to silence with threats of excommunication, purgatory and hell.May you Catholics celebrate your Holy week with the knowledge and shame of your complicity in the fact that there will be no Easter of justice served for the Good Friday I and other victims suffered at the hands of your priests that you still collectively cover up.Enjoy your holiday.

  • areyousaying

    Is the Vatican now comparing clergy child abuse victims to the Nazi’s who killed the Jews? Is that what the pope’s reverend is really saying?

  • areyousaying