Q:Should Pope Benedict XVI be held responsible for the escalating scandals over clerical sexual abuse in Europe? Should he be investigated for cases of abuse that occurred under his watch as archbishop of Munich or as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer? Should the pope resign?
The Church correctly asserts that its moral credibility is at stake in the way that it reckons with the most recent revelations of sexual abuse. How long will people continue to turn for moral authority to a body that has failed to live up to its promise to protect its most vulnerable members? How can the faithful look to the Church for guidance if the Church neglects to courageously and proactively address its own darkest wounds?
And yet, even knowing what is at stake, the Vatican chooses to obfuscate, to blame, to deny and to mischaracterize. And now, in a bizarre and insidious twist, the preacher of the papal household tells us that the Church, under fire, has become the quintessential victim – the Jew of history. My assumption is that the Pope’s pastor is either completely ignorant of history (especially, ironically, the Church’s history of anti-Semitism), or he is demonstrating just how far removed the Church hierarchy is from contemporary reality and the multicultural context within which we live.
Indeed, it turns out that it is not – as the Church suggested years ago — a few renegade priests influenced by the pervasive sin in American society. Nor is it the exaggerated claims of a few disgruntled Catholics trying to fan the flames of their personal spiritual dissatisfaction. Nor is it a conspiracy of the media against the Church. No – the Church’s sexual abuse scandal is about hundreds of priests who abused thousands of innocent children, and were permitted to do as Church hierarchy – including this Pope – chose to protect the Church’s reputation at the expense of children’s lives.
Is this kind of abuse unique to Catholicism? Of course not. But the test of a moral institution and a moral leader is what he is willing to do when such shameful realities emerge.
Should the Pope resign? I’d rather see him make a real heshbon hanefesh – an accounting of the soul – in which he takes responsibility, cleans house (maybe Cantalamessa would do better at a desk job) and starts to act like the moral leader he was put in place to be.
He should do this for the sake of the children – many now adults – whose lives were turned upside down by sick men who whose betrayed oaths should have deprived them of the protection of the world’s most powerful religious institution. He should do this for the sake of God, whose image has been severely tarnished by the sadistic acts of supposedly holy people. And he should do this for the sake of the Church, to honor its extraordinary history of transforming brokenness into holiness, and bringing light and healing to the world.