THIS is a harrowing time for the Roman Catholic Church. Pedophilia scandals involving priests have made fresh headlines in several countries. The news is disconcerting to Catholics and nonmembers who respect the Vatican's moral authority.
Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Irish Bishop John Magee for not reporting molesting priests to police. The bishop apologized to victims of pedophiles who worked in parishes in the two decades when he ran the diocese of Cloyne.
The Pope has issued his own apology to Ireland for 16 years of church concealment of offenses there. Government investigators are checking for more abuse cover-ups.
The Vatican came under fire for a decision not to defrock the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, a U.S. priest who was accused of molesting 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin.
Records show that two Wisconsin bishops in the 1990s wanted permission from Rome to put the priest through a church trial. But the deputy to the Vatican's Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope, declined. The reasons given were that the alleged offenses occurred decades earlier and that Father Murphy, by then old and ailing, should be allowed to repent and serve out his life as a priest. He died in 1998.
Reports say that the Pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, had been kept more carefully informed of a sexual abuse case in Germany than earlier statements by the church suggested. The cardinal, then in Munich, was copied on a memo that said a priest he had approved for therapy in 1980 to deal with pedophilia would return to pastoral work within days of starting treatment. The priest was later convicted of abusing boys in a different parish.
Some of the Pope's defenders see these developments as part of an insidious plot to bring him down. That is hard to figure, given the independent tracks and timelines on which these unfortunate cases in multiple nations have unfolded.
In a recent interview, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a top Vatican official, defended the Pope's handling of sexual abuse cases. But he called for a "housecleaning" and said "we need a culture of attentiveness and courage."
For a thorough cleansing, the Vatican must address the cover-ups of abuse, the failed dismissals of priests, the lack of accountability for bishops, and the role played by Cardinal Ratzinger in cases that came before him.
This growing crisis is real. It tarnishes the dedicated work, daily sacrifice, and Christian witness of the majority of the church's priests.
For their sake and the sake of their flocks, it is time for the Pope himself to speak out.