Indian priest sex abuse case continues to test Pope Benedict
Today's revelation that a Minnesota priest charged in a 2007 sex abuse case involving a teenage girl still practices in India continues to put a spotlight on the Vatican and Pope Benedict.
This year's "holy week," the most important event in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, had some of the church's greatest minds concerned with matters other than religious celebration.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Pope Benedict XVI
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Though the masses and processions leading up to Easter Sunday went forward as they have for centuries, they did so amid the emergence of sex abuse cases both old and new. Critics have charged that Pope Benedict XVI, at best, failed to deal with abusive priests. At worst, they say, he presided over a church that systematically shielded abusers from the law.
The newest case erupted today, when an attorney representing a girl who says she was abused by a priest in Minnesota charged that the Vatican declined to investigate the priest, Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, after repeated warnings from other church officials in 2005 and 2006. US authorities in 2007 formally charged Rev. Palanivel Jeyapaul with sexually assaulting a teenage girl, but he has continued to work at a Catholic school in southern India.
It's highly unlikely that Pope Benedict will resign his office in response to the abuse scandals – it's been almost 600 years since the last pope stepped down. But his character and personal beliefs will be crucial as he seeks to guide a church that claims 1 billion adherents through what the National Catholic Reporter in the United States calls the church's "largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history."
Former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, elected as pope in 2005, has had an unusually difficult tenure. The German-born pontiff has been criticized as a reactionary and lambasted for "Nazi connections" that, in truth, amount to no more than what was forced on all German youths at the time.
But his public persona has been very different from that of Pope John Paul II, his avuncular predecessor. Pope Benedict has been nicknamed "God's Rottweiler" for his ferocious track record of defending the church's conservative traditions, both in his old job as cardinal in charge of doctrinal discipline and since being elected pope.
His defenders say the pope's image is unfair. They say he's taken the problem of sexual abuse by priests seriously. Vincent Twomey, a former student of the pope's who still meets with him annually to debate theology, paints a picture of a gentle, professorial figure with a fierce intellect rather than a fierce temper.
"When he and his brother were ordained, there was a parade through the town and he said to himself: 'Joseph, this is not for you, it's for the office you represent.' When I saw him come out onto the balcony after election as pope and give his shy smile and wave, I knew he was thinking the same thing," says Dr. Twomey, a retired professor of moral theology and a priest.
But the growing child abuse scandal has cast a shadow not only over the church but over the pope.
Three particular cases – in Wisconsin, Germany, and Italy/Spain – have raised questions about whether the pope knew of priests who had sexually abused children but chose not to take action against them or delayed actions against them. In all three cases, church officials say the pope was either unaware of the charges against the men or behaved properly.
'Tip of the iceberg'
Were it not for his steadfast objections to abortion and homosexuality, Ratzinger would be far to the left of any American politician. Catholic social teaching, even at its most conservative, eschews profit-seeking as a goal and promotes an economy aimed at the "common good."