Catholic sex abuse scandal raising doubts for young German Catholics
In Germany, the birthplace of Pope Benedict XVI, the priest sex abuse scandal has shaken many young Catholics' trust in the church, if not their faith. The man who initially inspired a new 'Benedict generation' is now seen as out of touch.
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“In 2005, there could have been a Benedict generation, but we are not that convinced of Benedict anymore. It’s not because of the sex scandal … he’s just moved himself off our radar,” says Niklas Ebel, a Catholic theology student in Tubingen, Germany. “We want a church that is more open, self-critical, and lively – that means a message of participation that reaches people.”
Dirk Tanzler, head of the German Catholic youth department, conceded in a recent interview with Der Spiegel that Benedict is more of a professor than the charismatic Pope John Paul II, and “that’s a world foreign to many young people.... Not all Catholic youth see the pope as an example…. Most have a different idea of how to live their lives than the pope might imagine for them.”
To be sure, the pope retains strong backing among a small but devout minority of youths – a new and powerful conservative “clerical” movement in the US and Europe. The sex abuse scandal has also brought sympathy for a pope who is viewed as being under attack.
The president of the Catholic chapel at Sciences Po in Paris, Alix Prevost, a French representative at the 2008 youth meeting in Sydney, has “nothing but respect for Benedict.” But as a young Catholic, she says she trusts the church and doesn’t focus on the pope currently in power.
“I’ve had a wonderful experience, and I’ve found a lot of good in the church that doesn’t get mentioned,” she says.
Yet Ms. Prevost disagreed with Pope Benedict’s move to bring ultraconservative Bishop Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier, back into the fold. Mr. Williamson has said: “I believe that the historical evidence is strongly against, hugely against, 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.”
The global priest abuse and coverup scandal ground forward on Monday, with reports that a retired Belgian cardinal, Godfried Danneels, ignored complaints that Bishop Roger Vangheluwe molested a young man in the late 1990s. Benedict accepted Mr. Vangheluwe's resignation over the weekend, and on Sunday made an elliptical reference to the scandal by saying that priests should ensure congregations do not come to harm.