No matter how tired or weak Pope Benedict may be, he still has two weeks to use his vast power to protect youngsters. Before he steps down, we hope he will show true leadership and compassion and take tangible action to safeguard vulnerable children.
(Imagine the shock waves – and the hope – that would be generated if, in his waning days, the pontiff demoted, disciplined, or defrocked even a handful of bishops who are concealing child sex crimes. And imagine the deterrent that would be to present and future cover ups.)
It’s reckless to assume the next pope will handle abuse and cover ups better. Vigilance, not complacency, protects kids. The next pope must be judged by his actual track record, not by our naïve assumptions.
Pope Benedict followed the same script church officials have used for years, speaking of abuse in oblique terms and only when forced to do so, ignoring the cover ups, using past tense (as if to pretend clergy sex crimes and cover ups are not still happening now). Instead of taking sweeping, proactive steps to deter wrongdoing, he offered only belated verbal apologies and ineffective symbolic gestures.
He publicly spoke about the crisis more than his predecessor but that alone is no achievement. That’s simply because disclosures of cover-up at the highest levels became widely documented during his tenure.
Whether a leader says more or less than his predecessor on a topic is irrelevant. Actions matter, not words. And when it comes to action, Pope Benedict has done painfully little to expose predators, punish enablers and safeguard children.
Whether or not a sentence or phrase is unprecedented matters little. What matters is whether a person’s actions, in a tangible way, make children safer. On that score, Pope Benedict, like most of the church hierarchy, is dreadfully disappointing.
It’s frustrating to see some give the Pope credit for uttering, in 2005, a few words about “filth in the church.” And it’s frustrating to see some praise the Pope for his tepid response to the horrors inflicted on children by Fr. Marcial Maciel. The Pope is the most powerful religious figure on the planet. Such tokenism is beneath him.
The pope still has two weeks. Children need him to take decisive action to protect them. We hope he will do so.