Pope at centre of child abuse storm
By Michele Leridon, AAP March 28, 2010, 5:55 am
The child abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church has homed in on Pope Benedict XVI, who's been labelled the "biggest sinner" in one newspaper, but the Vatican says his handling of the crisis will only strengthen his authority.
As allegations piled up of sexual molestation by priests in the scandal that has swept the United States and Europe, the media expressed shock and bewilderment in comments and editorials on Saturday.
"How could the Catholics do such a thing?" asked Britain's The Independent newspaper.
How could priests receive the host in communion "while raping children?" it wondered. "What was going on in their souls?"
In Spain's El Pais, a theology professor remarked that the Roman Catholic Church was quick to link abortion with sin but had "difficulty doing the same thing when it came to sexual abuse committed by people dedicated to God".
A poll in Germany's Stern magazine found falling confidence in the Church, standing at 17 per cent from 29 per cent in January, with faith in the Pope down to 24 per cent from 38 per cent in the same period.
"The Pope is surely the biggest sinner in the whole Catholic Church," one Swiss national was quoted as saying in the Tribune de Geneve newspaper.
But the Vatican - which dismissed a New York Times report on Friday that Benedict had failed to act in 1980 to stop a priest accused of sexually abusing children - said he will not be weakened by the crisis.
"The recent media attacks have without doubt caused damage," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told Italy's ANSA news agency.
"But the authority of the Pope and the commitment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the Church's morals watchdog once headed by Benedict - against sex abuse of minors will come out of this not weakened but strengthened," he said.
The way the Church deals with the issue "is crucial for its moral credibility", he conceded.
Some Catholics recalled a March 2005 statement the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made several weeks before taking over as Pope on the death of John Paul II.
"How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to (Christ)," he wrote.
"Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side," he said, apparently mindful of offences that led him to initiate in 1981 a decree to keep pedophile priests away from children.
He was "the first to see the need for new, stricter rules" to attack pedophilia, said German Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in Corriere della Sera.
"The first concern is for the victims... we need a culture of care and courage, to clean up. The path we are on is irreversible and it is good it is that way," he said in an interview.
There may be a cleanout but no one expects anything too dramatic, said Italian journalist Sandro Magister, who specialises on the Catholic Church and the Vatican.
"At every controversy, some people try to propose total reform of the Church," he told AFP.
But the pope has already, for example, defended celibacy for priests after suggestions it may be behind sexual frustration that results in abuse of children.
Germany's Der Spiegel said the furore might force Benedict to resign, but that seems highly unlikely: the pope is appointed for life and in the past 2,000 years there have been only two resignations - in 1294 and 1415.