Sex scandals threaten Pope’s ‘mission’
The sexual abuse scandal roiling the Roman Catholic Church is threatening one of the Pope’s core missions, a Christian reawakening in Europe. Pope Benedict XVI has made reversing the decline of Catholic influence in Europe a central goal of his papacy, but as clerical abuse scandals spread across the continent, they threaten to hasten a growing movement away from the Catholic Church.
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A survey published in the German magazine Focus underscores that threat. About 56 per cent of 613 Germans polled by researchers at Zeppelin University, in Friedrichshafen, said they had no confidence in the church; one-quarter of the survey’s Catholic respondents said they were mulling over leaving the church.
“This is a real danger for Benedict,” said David Gibson, author of the biography The Rule of Benedict. With alienation hitting the very places that could be the seedbeds for the Pope’s push, Gibson said, “his great project could be cut off at the roots”.
The Vatican this week published a letter from Cardinal Claudio Hummes, head of the Congregation for the Clergy, to priests worldwide, noting that the church “is determined to neither hide nor minimise” sexual abuse.
Sexually abusive priests, the cardinal wrote in a letter dated April 12, “must answer for their actions before God and before tribunals, including the civil courts”.
Europe has become increasingly irreligious, a shift rooted in part in its post-war prosperity and the growing chasm between European social mores and the church’s moral teachings on issues such as contraceptives, divorce and homosexuality.
– In Spain, a traditional Catholic stronghold, fewer than 20 per cent of people attend mass regularly, down from more than 30 per cent in the 1980s, according to a 2008 study. In Germany, fewer than 14 per cent of Catholics attend church regularly, compared with 29 per cent three decades ago.
– In the US, by comparison, 42 per 1 cent of Catholics and 47 per cent of Protestants say they attend church regularly, according to Gallup Poll data.
Between 2000 and 2008, the number of priests in Europe declined about 8 per cent, based on the most recent Vatican figures.
The church’s ageing clergy signals a more precipitous drop ahead: in Ireland, 36 per cent of its priests are over 65, while only 4 per cent are 34 or younger.
– The abuse scandals have further undermined the church’s influence. In Munich, home to about 540,000 Catholics, city officials say 1691 people, most of them Catholic, left the church last month alone, more than double last year’s monthly average.