Three Monkeys Online

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The Ratzinger Report – An introduction to Pope Benedict XVI

In countries like the US, Ireland, his own native Germany and Austria, amongst others, one key factor in falling observance has been the instances of priestly paedophilia, and equally importantly the Church's perceived failure to prevent future cases. Questions hang over Ratzinger's own reaction to cases, most notoriously his shelving and final re-opening of an investigation into abuse allegations against Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The English Observer has suggested that Ratzinger himself signed a letter suggesting that the Church retain jurisdiction over cases of abuse, and demanding secrecy from all involved.

Allen gives Benedict the benefit of the doubt in relation to how the Church during his Pontificate will deal with these cases: &ldquoI think he’ll address it a bit more aggressively than perhaps was the case with the previous Pontificate. John Paul, for all his strengths, was not someone with a passion for internal management. Benedict has a greater sense of his responsibilities as a governor of the Church, in that regard. Plus, he headed the office that was responsible for reviewing all these cases, and I do think that they learned something through all that. The need to respond aggressively, and to take these situations seriously, so I think he’ll continue to want to make sure that anybody who is credibly accused of abuse is never in a position where they can abuse again, and that Bishops are held responsible for making sure that that happens. At the same time, it’s also clear that Benedict believes that some of the negative press coverage, and negative energy that it created, some of that was unfair and exaggerated, and I don’t think he’s going to want to capitulate to that. I wouldn’t expect any sweeping mea culpa‘s from the Pope. I would expect his administration to follow through.”

If Benedict's Church is prepared to be a ”creative minority”, then his election has sent a clear signal to two particular groups lobbying for changes in the Church's attitude towards them, women and homosexuals. They are welcome within the Church, but only on acceptance of the current Church teaching, which under Benedict is almost certainly not going to change.

&ldquoCertainly in relation to the question of the ordination of women,” explains Allen, “that’s a closed issue, there’s no possibility that it’s going to be re-opened. There are a lot of possibilities for bringing women into meaningful positions of authority within the Church, that don’t depend upon ordination. There are Chancellors in Diocese for example, or sitting on Canon Law courts, being Chief Financial Administrators, or, for that matter, holding senior administrative posts in the Vatican that don’t depend upon ordination. There’s no reason, for example, why the Council for Laity could not be run by a lay woman, or the Council for Justice and Peace and so on. To date it remains to be seen how serious this Pontificate is going to be about taking advantage of those opportunities, to reassure Catholic women that the Church really is interested in their voice. I don’t know how to read that.”

And in relation to homosexuals? The Gay and Lesbian Catholic organisation Dignity, on the election of Benedict XVI issued a press release that pulled no punches: &ldquoThe leadership of Dignity USA, the organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Catholics reacted with dismay to today’s election of Cardinal Ratzinger as the new Pope”. There will be no change of position, though, according to Allen: &ldquoThe Church has a very clear teaching on homosexuality, and in fact, in this book that was published yesterday, the Pope came out rather bitterly complaining that in Europe today it’s considered almost a human rights abuse for the Church to voice its opinion on homosexuality, which is to say its belief that homosexuality is a disorder. I’m quite sure that the Pope is going to hold that line. The Church will insist that that doesn’t mean that it is hostile to homosexual men and women, that it does want them to be part of the Church, but in order to do so they have to be willing to accept the teaching of the Church. To what extent Catholic homosexual men and women, that is Catholic gays and lesbians, will make that choice remains to be seen.”

And can we presume that the Church will campaign in civil society against the open practice of homosexuality? &ldquoI just came back from Spain, covering that march protesting the law that’s set to be approved by that country’s Parliament later this month allowing for gay marriage. This march was an overwhelmingly Catholic enterprise supported wholeheartedly by the Bishops’ conference in that country, and very much of a piece with this robust public role for the Church that Pope Benedict wants. On that issue you’d be well within your rights to assume that the Church will be on the front lines.”

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