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Should the Vatican have adopted US reforms on sex abuse?

Following revelations about sexual abuse, the Catholic Church in the United States adopted a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ and mandatory reporting. Could Pope Benedict XVI have avoided his current difficulties if the Vatican had taken the same path?

By Staff Writer / April 3, 2010

Cardinals take turns approaching a crucifix during a service in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI on Good Friday.

Alessandra Tarantino/AP


As Christians around the world celebrate the promise of Easter this weekend, the Roman Catholic Church faces increasing criticism for its handling of sex abuse cases involving priests in Europe, Latin America, and the United States.

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Much of that criticism comes from American Catholics, who went through their own wrenching experience nearly a decade ago, when reforms were adopted to deal with child sex abuse by clergy.

"The tragedy is that the Europeans didn't get their house in order when they saw what was happening in the United States because they thought [abuse by priests] was an American problem," Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest at Georgetown University, told CNN. "If they had adopted our reforms, they would be in a much better situation today."

Those reforms included zero tolerance toward priests who abused children, mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to legal authorities, and the creation of local boards of lay Catholics to respond to such allegations. Though the reforms were adopted as binding church law in the US, neither the Vatican nor the Catholic Church in Europe or other parts of the world followed suit, according to CNN.

Still, reports of new allegations in the United States continue.

Two abuse cases in Arizona “cast further doubt on the Catholic Church's insistence that Pope Benedict XVI played no role in shielding pedophiles before he became pope,” reports the Associated Press.

“Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that as a Vatican cardinal, the future pope took over the abuse case of the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson, Ariz., then let it languish at the Vatican for years despite repeated pleas from the bishop for the man to be removed from the priesthood,” AP reports. “In another Tucson case, that of Msgr. Robert Trupia, the bishop wrote to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who would become pope in 2005. Bishop Manuel Moreno called Trupia ‘a major risk factor to the children, adolescents and adults that he many have contact with.’ There is no indication in the case files that Ratzinger responded.”

Pope unlikely to resign

There has been no indication that Pope Benedict XVI will resign. But some Catholic scholars believe that the Pope’s conservative moral agenda for the church may be undercut by the continuing scandal.

“The pope's moral authority is very much in doubt,” warns The Rev. Richard P. McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.