Pope Opens Holy Week Amid Sex Abuse Scandals

Paddy Agnew, the Vatican correspondent for the Irish Times, talks to Mary Louise Kelly about the Vatican's response to the escalating sex scandal crisis in the Catholic Church in Europe. The pope has only publicly mentioned the scandal in Ireland, writing a letter to the Irish faithful last week.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

The scandal in Germany is only part of the crisis engulfing the Catholic Church in Europe. Allegations have also surfaced in Italy, in Austria, in Ireland. And we're joined now from Ireland by Paddy Agnew, the Vatican correspondent for the Irish Times. Good morning.

Mr. PADDY AGNEW (Vatican Correspondent, The Irish Times): Good morning to you.

KELLY: Well, we heard a few moments ago there, Pope Benedict did speak yesterday for Palm Sunday at the Vatican, but he has not given a major address or really taken a lot of the allegations coming out full on. Why not?

Mr. AGNEW: Well, to be fair to him, he has taken the allegations full on in relation to the controversy at the moment in Ireland. In the sense that he addressed a letter to the Irish faithful a week ago, in which he offered his defense, indicated very clearly that as far as he's concerned, the major responsibility for the mishandling of sex abuse crisis lay with an incompetent set of bishops.

But thats hardly an adequate answer for a crisis that, you know, is like a tsunami thats splashing over the entire Catholic Church, be it in, you know, Austria, Holland, Brazil, and above all, in his own native country, Germany.

KELLY: Absolutely. You said when addressing the scandal, specifically, in Ireland, he laid the blame on bishops. Did he take responsibility himself for whats happened there?

Mr. AGNEW: No, he didnt. He didnt take responsibility, either for himself, or indeed, for the Holy See and for his predecessors in the position of pope. And that is clearly one of the most polemical aspects of the letter to the Irish. Because if the sex abuse problem was just a problem of incompetent Irish bishops, how come you have scandals in all these other countries?

KELLY: Well, and you described this as a tsunami that just keeps coming. Is the pope himself vulnerable? How close has this come in touching him?

Mr. AGNEW: Well, as you all know, it's come very close to touching him because there has been a case of this priest during Pope Benedict's watch, as the archbishop of Munich, that was in 1980. The case was badly mishandled. You know, in the past, bishops have been forced to resign for that.

KELLY: Do you see any chance that this pope will resign over this?

Mr. AGNEW: Well, not at the moment, because I mean, I think as everybody understands the question, resignation for a pope is immensely delicate matter. The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory the XII, 1415. Even Benedict's predecessor, we often talked - John Paul II that is. During the last 10 years or so of his pontificate, as Im sure lots of your listeners remember, he had terribly bad health. There was a lot of talk from those days about surely the senior cardinals should just ask him to resign. And surely he should resign himself because of his ill health.

But John Paul II many, many times said, God put me on the seat of St. Peter and only God can take off the seat of Peter.

KELLY: Last thing I want to ask you, Paddy Agnew, the church has weathered scandals to do with child sexual abuse before, for many years now. What do you see as being the long-term impact on the church?

Mr. AGNEW: Until it is seen that a pope - and I can't believe it will be this pope - is willing to face some of the most serious problems in the church, by this: the role of woman, the role the lay, the question of the celibate priesthood, the whole variety of areas of teaching on sexual mores - unless those change, the Catholic Church could be in for some very lean days in the future.

KELLY: All right. Paddy Agnew is Vatican correspondent for the "Irish Times." Thank you.

Mr. AGNEW: Thank you.

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