Sunday, March 28, 2010

With Scrutiny, Vatican Faces Test of ‘Moral Credibility’

March 27, 2010
With Scrutiny, Vatican Faces Test of ‘Moral Credibility’
ROME — As Pope Benedict XVI faces growing pressure to address his role in the handling of sexual abuse cases over the years, the Vatican acknowledged on Saturday that its ability to handle the crisis was a crucial test of its “moral credibility.”

In a note read on Vatican radio on Saturday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, spoke about the recent news media coverage of a widening abuse scandal in Europe, including recent revelations in The New York Times.

“The nature of the question is such as to attract the attention of the media, and the way in which the church deals with it is crucial for her moral credibility,” Father Lombardi said.

The note, which was not an official statement, comes as Benedict faces increased scrutiny about his role in handling abuse cases, especially as archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1980, when a known pedophile priest was transferred to his diocese.

In a harsh editorial on Friday, The National Catholic Reporter, an American Catholic publication, called on Benedict to “directly answer questions, in a credible forum” about his role “in the mismanagement of the clergy sex abuse crisis.” It called for clarity about his time as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982 and then as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office that oversaw many abuse cases, from 1982 until becoming pope in 2005.

“No longer can the Vatican simply issue papal messages — subject to nearly infinite interpretations and highly nuanced constructions — that are passively ‘received’ by the faithful,” the editorial said. “No longer can secondary Vatican officials, those who serve the pope, issue statements and expect them to be accepted at face value.”

It concluded by saying: “We now face the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history. How this crisis is handled by Benedict, what he says and does, how he responds and what remedies he seeks, will likely determine the future health of our church for decades, if not centuries, to come.

“It is time, past time really, for direct answers to difficult questions,” the editorial added. “It is time to tell the truth.”

In his note on Saturday, a day before the start of Holy Week leading up to Easter, one of the most sacred weeks in the Catholic calendar, Father Lombardi pointed to the “extraordinary preventative efforts being undertaken” with training courses for youth and clergy after the application of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” issued by the Catholic Church in the United States. He added that accusations of abuse fell 30 percent over the last year and said most reported cases were more than 30 years old.

“The authority of the pope and the intense and coherent commitment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have not been weakened,” Father Lombardi said. “Rather, they have been confirmed in their support and guidance to bishops to combat and root out the blight of abuse wherever it happens.”

In Ireland and elsewhere, local bishops have asked the Vatican for clarity on norms that at once urge secrecy in handling abuse cases and cooperation with civilian authorities in the case of a suspected crime.

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