Friday, March 26, 2010

The Fallibility of the Infallible Pope

Allegations that Pope Benedict XVI may have had detailed knowledge about instances of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church continue to mount. In 1996, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he then led, decided not to punish the pedophile priest Father Lawrence Murphy. With his authority eroded, why does he even remain in office?

When is it time for a pope to resign? Margaret Kässmann, the former head of the Protestant Church in Germany, stepped down in February upon deciding that she no longer had the necessary moral authority for her office after being caught driving drunk. But how much authority does Pope Benedict XVI still enjoy?

These days, what is left is disappearing almost daily. Each new detail about the role he played in his church's handling of instances of sexual abuse erodes it further. But a pope doesn't just resign. He is not the CEO of a company, not the head of a political party -- he is the direct spiritual descendent of the Apostle Peter.

It is, in theory, possible according to church law. Canon 332, Paragraph Two, provides for a papal resignation, allowing the pope to step down whenever he wishes and without asking anyone for permission. But in the long history of the Catholic Church, it is extremely uncommon. Pope Celestine V was the most recent church leader to resign -- 700 years ago.

And even if numerous abuse victims have long been calling for Benedict to stand down, it is simply not papal to turn one's back on the papacy. Instead, the Vatican prefers to reject any accusations that have been made as being fully unfounded.

On Thursday, one could observe the reflex once again. In the case of the pedophile priest from the US, Father Lawrence Murphy, Vatican spokesman Federico Lomobardi insisted that before he became pope, Benedict, then known as Joseph Ratzinger, was in no way involved in a cover up. Given that "Father Murphy was elderly and in very poor health," the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by Ratzinger, elected in 1996 to forego punishing him. Murphy, who had abused some 100 children, was allowed to remain a priest until his death.

To read more: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,685712,00.html


Source photo: http://www.appletreeblog.com/?p=6540

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