As sex abuse claims against the Catholic Church gain momentum across the Americas and Europe, Pope Benedict XVI is issuing a letter of apology. The gesture comes in the wake of a New York Times story suggesting that Benedict, as an archbishop in the 1980s, may have ignored warnings about a pedophile priest. Bookmakers in the U.K. are now setting the odds at 3 to 1 that Benedict will resign. But can popes resign — and, if so, would Benedict really choose to do so? (Watch the Pope speak about the Vatican's child abuse allegations)
First things first — the Pope can step down: Any Pope can resign, so long as he makes the decision "freely," explains Christopher Beam at Slate. But he definitely cannot be "fired" or "defrocked," according to Catholicism's rules, since there is "no higher authority" on earth who could make such a decision. Papal resignations aren't common, though. The last involved Gregory XII, who stepped down amid a "battle for the papacy" in 1415.
"Can the Pope be fired?"
Pope Benedict should hurry up and do it then: "When will this Pope step down?" asks Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic. He "knowingly" put the interests of the church "hierarchy" above the "welfare of vulnerable children." Then, confronted with the truth, he "said nothing" and instead "put out a PR campaign" to accuse critics of being "anti-Catholic." How can anyone "retain confidence" in this man's leadership after his "repugnant" actions?
"The Pope: Drowning, not waving"
But he won't: This scandal's damage to the "moral authority" of the Church is immense, says Ruth Gledhill at The Times (UK). But people forget that the Pope is "pretty unassailable." He is not an "elected politician," but a "monarch" with deeply "cemented" power. And so far, despite a "succession of damaging revelations," no "killer fact" that could bring the Pope down has surfaced.
"Scandal still not enough to threaten the Pope"
Pope Benedict deserves credit for confronting the problem: Pope Benedict was as slow as other Vatican officials to see "the magnitude of the crisis" back when he was a cardinal, says Rod Dreher in BeliefNet — at least "until 2002, when his fax machine...began disgorging round the clock [abuse] reports from American dioceses." He gets it now, and has made it clear that abusers will be punished, not protected, as long as he's pope. That's a huge step forward for the Vatican.
"On sex abuse, Benedict now vs. then"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The best places to find love — and lust — according to science
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- The 6 best low-cost smartphones
- Why GOP reformers are bound to fail
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- How the battle for religious freedom became a nonsensical free-for-all
- 6 things the most productive people do every day
Subscribe to the Week