The Trial of Pope Benedict XVI

Posted: June 2, 2010 in Persecuted, Roman Catholic Church
Tags: , ,

By Jeff Israely and Howard Chua-Eoan


How do you atone for something terrible, like the Inquisition? Joseph Ratzinger attempted to do just that for the Roman Catholic Church during a grandiose display of Vatican penance — the Day of Pardon on March 12, 2000, a ritual presided over by Pope John Paul II and meant to purify two millenniums of church history. In the presence of a wooden crucifix that had survived every siege of Rome since the 15th century, high-ranking Cardinals and bishops stood up to confess to sins against indigenous peoples, women, Jews, cultural minorities and other Christians and religions. Ratzinger was the appropriate choice to represent the fearsome Holy Office of the Inquisition: the German Cardinal was, at the time, head of its historical successor, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When his turn came, Ratzinger, the church’s premier theologian, intoned a short prayer that said “that even men of the church, in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel in the solemn duty of defending the truth.”

If you detect ambivalence in those words, you are on the road to understanding the difficulty Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — faces in leading the Catholic Church to properly atone for another stain on its history: the decades of cases of child abuse by priests and cover-ups by their bishops. And while a well-placed Cardinal has publicly speculated that Benedict will deliver a mea culpa in early June, the words of that apology — if that is what it proves to be — will be severely limited by theology, history and the very person and office of the Pope. It is unlikely to satisfy the many members of Benedict’s flock who want a very modern kind of accountability, not just mealymouthed declarations buttressed by arcane religious philosophy. “Someone once told me that if the church survived the Inquisition, it can survive this,” says Olan Horne, 50, an American victim of priestly abuse. “But these are different times. And right now, the modern world is wrapping its head around the Catholic Church in a major way

The crisis facing the church is deeply complicated by the fact that in 1980, as Archbishop of Munich, the future Benedict XVI appears to have mismanaged the assignment of an accused pedophile priest under his charge. That revelation — and questions about Ratzinger’s subsequent oversight of cases as a top Vatican official — has been the trigger in turning a rolling series of national scandals into an epic and existential test for the universal church, its leader and its faithful alike. It has blunted Benedict’s ambitious enterprise of re-evangelizing Europe, the old Christendom. Over the past two months, the Pope has led the Holy See’s shift from silence and denial to calls to face the enemies from within the church. What is still missing, however, is any mention of the Holy Father’s alleged role in the scandal. Can the Pope, the living embodiment of the ancient Gospel and absolute spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, publicly atone for his sins and yet preserve the theological impregnability of the papacy?

Without alluding to the crisis, Benedict told his May 26 audience in St. Peter’s Square that “not even the Pope can do what he wants. On the contrary, the Pope is the guardian of obedience to Christ, to his Word.”

Benedict now seems to understand the stakes. But Alberto Melloni, a church historian at the University of Modena, says other power brokers in the Vatican think the church can just ride out the storm. “They don’t realize the deep bitterness among the faithful, the isolation of the clergy. We can’t predict where this is going to wind up.” Speaking to TIME, a senior Vatican official foresees immense consequences for the entire church. “History comes down to certain key episodes,” he says. “We’re facing one of those moments now.”

At the Heart of the Darkness
In the end, the test is not about doctrine or dogma, not even about the wording of mea culpas and the resignation or prosecution of prelates. It is, rather, about the voices of children finally crying out, long after their childhood. Listen to Bernie McDaid’s story and you will know why St. Peter’s trembles.

“He grabbed me, tickling and wrestling like I did with my dad, and I thought at first it was fun,” McDaid, who grew up in Salem, Mass., says of a parish priest. “But then something changed … He started grabbing my genitals. I felt him rubbing against me from behind … I was so scared. I knew this was so wrong. I looked out the window. I started praying.” That would happen again and again over three years. McDaid’s devout mother was delighted whenever the priest arrived to pick up her son, just 11 when the abuse started, to join other boys on trips to the beach. But, recalls McDaid, now 54, “the last boy out of the car was the one who would get molested.” He finally spoke to his dad, who then took him to a priest from the next town to report what had happened. “We waited for months. Then there was a rotation of priests. He left, but they made it look like a natural progression. They celebrated him with cake and ice cream.” The boy was left in silence and with his secret shame. The priest, Father Joseph Birmingham, went on to abuse boys in three other parishes in the Boston area before he died in 1989.


Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1992171,00.html#ixzz0pXgDiF47

Sophia Loren had a romantic problem with Marcello Mastroianni in this 1971 film because he was a man of the cloth. But attitudes have changed since The Priest’s Wife was released and now a majority of Italians believe that priests should be allowed to marry, according to an opinion poll.

The survey, by the polling organisation Demos, came as Catholic bishops in Austria called on the Vatican to open up the issue of priestly celibacy for discussion.

The survey, published yesterday in La Repubblica, showed that confidence in the Pope in Italy had dropped from 53.7 per cent in 2007 to 46.6 per cent, compared with 77.2 per cent for Pope John Paul II in 2003.

Sixty-two per cent said they believed that the Church had sought to minimise or cover up sex abuse scandals.

Only 18 per cent said that attacks on the Church over abuse were unjustified and 13 per cent said that it had dealt with the problem adequately.

Ilvo Diamanti, an Italian sociologist, said the drop in support for the Church and the papacy partly stemmed from the Vatican’s slow, divided and confused response to the paedophile crisis at a time of fast moving global media. It was also linked to the decline of the priesthood in Italian society, with the Church increasingly seen as out of touch with modern social attitudes and mores.

The poll followed the conclusion at the weekend of a congress at Mariazell south of Vienna at which Austrian bishops called on the Vatican to discuss the issue of celibacy and whether to ordain married priests.

Bishop Alois Schwarz of the Carinthia diocese told the meeting: “We hear this question as bishops, and we are telling Rome that we have this problem.”

He said the role of women in the Church was also among the “many open topics which we need to discuss with sensitivity and from different viewpoints”. The bishops ended their meeting with a call for “broad reforms”.

Last week the Bishop of Eisenstadt, Paul Iby, said in a newspaper interview: ‘It should be left up to every priest whether he wants to live a life of voluntary celibacy or in a family.”

“Rome is too timid in such questions,” Bishop Iby told the daily Die Presse, adding that priests should be allowed to choose whether they would like to marry to counteract the falling number of vocations. “But nothing is moving ahead in Rome,” he said.

Celibacy has been required of Catholic clergy since the early Middle Ages. However, it was not imposed in the early Church, and, according to Gospel accounts, St Peter was a married man.

Some senior Catholics, including Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, have linked paedophile priest scandals to the issue of celibacy. The Vatican has denied any such link, pointing out that in secular society paedophilia is often committed by married men.

The debate on this issue will clearly continue.  The Roman Catholic Church having locked itself into a situation were the pope cannot be wrong.  How can this institution ever change let alone admit it is at fault.  However the growing question of celibacy will continue to haunt the Catholic Church.

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