It has become more and more clear in the past few weeks, to all fair-minded observers, that the attempts to pin dirt on Pope Benedict have failed, and that Benedict’s tougher stance against abusers started in the latter years of his tenure at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It has also become clear that then Cardinal Ratzinger had been thwarted in his efforts to pursue a church trial against Rev. Marcial Maciel (the founder of the powerful religious order the Legion of Christ), involved in child sex abuse, and that upon assuming the papacy, Benedict moved against Maciel, ordering him to live a life of reserved prayer while also launching an investigation into the order itself.
At the same time, this doesn’t mean, by any means, that sexual abuse by Catholic clergy is not a reality and a real problem. On the contrary, the truth is that the Church is facing its greatest crisis in modern times. And that’s what pope Benedict basically said yesterday, speaking to reporters accompanying him on a flight to Portugal. In fact, striking a markedly different tone from other church leaders, Pope Benedict issued his strongest condemnation of the sex abuse scandals rocking the Catholic Church (far more harsh than his March letter to the Catholics of Ireland). Unlike cardinal Sodano, for instance (at the start of the Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square last month), instead of attempting to “minimize” controversy over pedophile priests as hostile press coverage and/or “petty gossip,” he said: “Attacks on the pope and the church come not only from outside the church, but the suffering of the church comes from inside the church, from sins that exist inside the church. This we have always known but today we see it in a really terrifying way.”
As it was not enough, Pope Benedict, who is expected to travel to the pilgrim shrine of Fatima where Catholics believe that Mary appeared to three young shepherd children in 1917, described how the sex abuse scandals were part of the so-called Third Mystery of Fatima. “Besides the suffering of Pope John Paul II in the Third Message,” he said, “there was also indications as to the future of the Church. It is true that it speaks of the passion of the Church. That the Church will suffer. The Lord said that the Church would suffer until the end of the world. Today we are seeing this in a particular way.” “The answers that the Church must give,” he added, “are penance, prayer, acceptance, forgiveness and also justice because forgiveness cannot replace justice.”
In other words, one might think that, as the archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Schönborn put it in a highly unusual attack on a fellow cardinal (Angelo Sodano), “The days of cover up are over.” And it was time for this to happen. There’s a time for everything, they say, even though there shouldn’t have been any time for cover-ups. But what’s done is over with, and the future began yesterday. Perhaps the Latin adage, Oportet ut scandala eveniant (it’s good that scandals happen), has never been more appropriate to describe a particular historical period, although at times one would be tempted to question its wisdom.