In Abuse Crisis, a Church Is Pitted Against Society and Itself





VATICAN CITY — As the sexual abuse crisis continues to unfold in the Roman Catholic Church, with more victims coming forward worldwide and three bishops resigning last week alone, it is clear the issue is more than a passing storm or a problem of papal communications.

Instead, the church is undergoing nothing less than an epochal shift: It pits those who hold fast to a more traditional idea of protecting bishops and priests above all against those who call for more openness and accountability. The battle lines are drawn between the church and society at large, which clearly clamors for accountability, and also inside the church itself.

Uncomfortably, the crisis also pits the moral legacies of two popes against each other: the towering and modernizing John Paul II, who nonetheless did little about sexual abuse; and his successor, Benedict XVI, who in recent years, at least, has taken the issue of pedophile priests more seriously.

He has had little choice, given the depth of the scandal and the anger it has unleashed. But when supporters defend Benedict, they are implicitly condemning John Paul and how an entire generation of bishops and the Vatican hierarchy acted in response to criminal behavior....


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