Over the years the Catholic Church has been having increasingly severe credibility issues, so much so it could be easy to consider it an international pedophile ring. Years of secrecy, cover up, denial, and shuffling "problem priests" elsewhere is catching up to the church.
In light of the many abuses that took place for over 60 years within the Church of Ireland, Pope Benedict released a pastoral letter. It's almost a sort-of-apology and sort-of-it's-partly-your-fault combination.
In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. It is in this overall context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening of faith and the loss of respect for the Church and her teachings.
In Ireland? Where the influence of the Catholic Church was total?
The defenders of Pope Benedict are varied in their approach. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, makes the bizarre argument that most of the young men whom the priests preyed upon where actually post-pubescent so it's really a problem with homosexuals and not pedophiles. I'm not aware of a legal distinction. A minor child is a minor child, post-pubescent or not.
And there's there's this statement from the Bishop of Tenerife:
His comments were that there are youngsters who want to be abused, and he compared that abuse to homosexuality, describing them both as prejudicial to society. He said that on occasions the abuse happened because the there are children who consent to it. ‘There are 13 year old adolescents who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what’s more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you’, he said.
I would hardly call that helpful. There is a more measured and rational defense by John Allen at the National Catholic Reporter. (Note: There was a much lengthier piece that I can no longer find on the NCR site. A condensed version of that is on the New York Times site.) He makes a case for then-Cardinal Ratzinger's and now Pope Benedict's work in dealing with priests preying on children and describes a time line as to when and who was responsible. While it is a defense of the Pope, the church's credibility still suffers in a huge way. From the Times op-ed:
After being elected pope, Benedict made the abuse cases a priority. One of his first acts was to discipline two high-profile clerics against whom sex abuse allegations had been hanging around for decades, but had previously been protected at the highest levels.
When you have to become Pope to remove two high-profile priests who had been protected at the highest levels, that doesn't reflect well on the prior Pope who, by the way, is on the fast track towards sainthood.
Pope Benedict has his work cut out for him.