Sunday, April 4, 2010

Will the Pope Resign?

It does seem a bit strange on Easter Sunday to speculate on whether the Pope is going to resign. But it is clearly on the minds of the Catholic faithful along with those in the Vatican as evidenced in Pope's Abuse Record Defended Before Easter Mass.

In an extraordinary departure to the ritual of Easter Mass at St. Peter's Square, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a senior Vatican official and Dean of the College of Cardinals, staunchly defended Pope Benedict from what he called ''petty gossip'' and hailed his ''unfailing'' leadership and courage in leading the church's response to the crisis.

Petty gossip? Cases of sexual abuse around the world have become so widespread that there is no longer any doubt that many cases of sexual abuse by priests against children have occurred with the Catholic Church being part of a cover up to protect many of the guilty from prosecution. Perhaps the most well known case here in the US is that of the former archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law.

Cardinal Law came to personify the clergy abuse crisis. He was the first member of the Catholic hierarchy shown to have actively covered up clergy abuse. Immediately after the Boston Globe broke the abuse story in 2002, Law refused to step down. But 11 months later, when priests’ records were released by court order showing that Law took elaborate steps to cover for abusers, he stepped down.

So whatever became of Cardinal Law? Dismissal from the Catholic Church? Hardly.

After leaving Boston, Law was named [by Pope John Paul II] to the prominent position of archpriest of the St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome. He also serves on several Vatican boards and committees and he participated in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict.

But now there are serious allegations that the Pope himself was part of a cover up as summed up by blogger Andrew Sullivan in his March 16th posting How Is the Pope Different from Cardinal Law?

A priest is discovered to have been actively molesting children. His superior is notified in 1980. One of the things he is told of is the priest's forcing an 11 year old boy to perform oral sex on him. The superior does not contact the police. He approves a transfer of the priest to a different city, where the priest is required to undergo therapy but is also subsequently able to resume his work with access to children. Six years later, the priest is again found guilty of abusing children. This time, he serves a sentence, but he is subsequently allowed to resume work as a priest, with the church authorities hiding his past from future parishes, and is only removed from his position
three days ago.

Joseph Ratzinger was the superior, he reviewed the man's files in 1980, and he was subsequently in charge of reviewing all sex abuse cases as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine Of The Faith in Rome. He was integral to the policy of hushing up as much of this as possible.

Of course, Joseph Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI.

Further damning evidence on Pope Benedict was presented in the 39 minute, 2006 BBC Panorama documentary Sex Crimes and the Vatican which is available for viewing online in this link.

So far, to nobody’s surprise, the Vatican has resorted to a policy of denial and stonewalling with the Pope refusing to directly address the allegations. What complicates things tremendously is that the Pope as a head of state is given diplomatic immunity from prosecution. (Panama’s former dictator
Manuel Noriega is an exception but that was justified on the grounds that he was accused of drug trafficking and racketeering.)

Without a practical way to prosecute high ranking Vatican officials, it is easier for them to dismiss these serious charges as “petty gossip” without having to respond to direct questioning. And while previous popes in the history of the church have resigned, the rules of the church clearly state that a pope cannot be forced to resign.

So the question by many including myself is not whether the pope should resign but whether he eventually will resign for the good of his church. While Pope Benedict can probably stay for as along as he wishes, the rapidly eroding support by many of its members will continue to exact its toll. How many churchgoers are going to financially support their church when they see the millions of dollars being paid out to settle lawsuits? How many young people will dedicate their lives to serving in the clergy if they see their church hierarchy as being corrupt? And a church that has its so-called moral leader accused of serious crimes will surely become more and more irrelevant to its members while possibly making some of them go as far as to even question their faith.

Surely, a major housecleaning needs to be done to try and repair the damage to the church. But without replacing the man at the top who controls everything, any efforts at reform will justifiably be looked at as no more than window dressing to preserve the power of its existing bureaucracy. Or in other words, preserving the status quo.

But as the recent sexual scandal around Tiger Woods proved, continued denial and stonewalling will only make matters worse for the church. Without answers from the Vatican, people will assume the worst and come up with their own answers which will further damage the church’s credibility and reputation.

I’m not a betting man. But if I were, I’d bet on the pope eventually resigning for the good of his church. Apparently others are too. Legal online bookmakers like are posting odds on not only the pope’s resignation but also on who will replace him. So far, most of the money is on him resigning causing the odds to be shortened from 12/1 to 3/1. And the current odds as of this posting have fallen to an astounding 6/4!

But lest we forget, this is ultimately not about the pope or even the church. It is about the victims who need our support to get some closure and to move on with their lives as best they can. It is about treating these acts of abuse (and their cover up) not just as a sin, but as a crime that requires prosecution and punishment.

And equally important, the Catholic Church has to put its top priority into protecting its children instead of just protecting its bureaucracy. Hard questions have to be asked about why the priesthood seems to attract so many pedophiles. Again, Andrew Sullivan who is both gay and Catholic offers his interesting perspective on the subject in
this posting.

I don't believe…that you can tackle this problem without seeing it as a symptom of a much deeper failure of the church to come to terms with sexuality, sexual orientation and the warping, psychologically distorting impact of compulsory celibacy in the priesthood. If women and married men were allowed to be priests, if homosexuality were regarded in Catholic theology as a healthy and rare difference rather than as a shameful disorder, this atmosphere would end, and these crimes would for the most part disappear and the cloying, closeted power-structure which enabled them to go unpunished for so long would finally crumble. And the church could grow again.

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