Throughout this year's Holy Week, the word "sorry" has been bandied around by virtually every major Catholic bishop presiding in a country where sex abuse scandals have erupted. But it has not been heard from the Pope. We should not be surprised. The Vatican has made it perfectly clear that it will do all it can to protect its leader from the swirling whirlpool of accusations that have thrown the Catholic Church into its worst crisis in recent decades.
The last thing officials want is for Benedict XVI's public agenda to be dominated by a deeply divisive issue that gives succour to its critics. The leader of the world's Catholics operates on an entirely different public relations plane to media-savvy politicians reacting to every swing in public opinion. The Pope is there to play the long game, and does not bend to the whim of either his opponents or his flock. It was only once years of allegations had flooded out of Ireland that he felt compelled to publicly castigate Ireland's bishops for their failings. Even then, he only addressed the abuse in that country, even though a whole new raft of allegations across Europe had just emerged.
The Vatican's response to new cover-up allegations has been to portray any criticism as part of a global secular conspiracy to undermine the Catholic faith. With a swipe of the hand, it has dismissed it as chiachiericcio, or "idle chatter". There's no doubt that some of the criticism aimed at the Catholic Church comes from secularists who can barely contain their glee at watching a Vatican flounder. Yet to dismiss all criticism and revelations as gossip risks undermining the very real complaints of the thousands of clerical abuse victims around the world.
Even so, don't expect a mea culpa from the Pope any time soon. For his supporters in the Vatican, Benedict is the one senior cleric who took the issue of abuse seriously. It was his predecessor John Paul II, they argue, who pioneered the culture of impunity that led to so much abuse and so little punishment of the perpetrators.
But until Benedict publicly accounts for his previous roles where controversy has erupted, specifically his time as Bishop of Munich in the late Seventies and then as head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, questions will remain over whether he has really made the Catholic Church a transparent and abuse-free place for children.Reuse content