Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger The media and the blogosphere exploded last week with news that the cancerous clergy sexual abuse crisis and its coverup may have reached deep into the bowels of the Vatican.  Was the pope himself, in his prior leadership role as Archbishop, complicit in the coverup of abuse of a German pedophile priest?  Later, as Cardinal Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, did he ignore or coverup memos of abuse complaints?

In response, the Vatican churns out press releases suggesting all the problems are ancient history and that the Roman Catholic hierarchy is currently achieving renewed levels of trust.  The following comes from a press release from the Director of the Vatican press office dated March 27th and reprinted from the National Catholic Reporter blog:

The truth is that the cases that have come to public attention generally took place some time ago, even decades ago, although recognising them and making amends with the victims is the best way to restore justice and to achieve that ‘purification of memory’ which enables us to look to the future with renewed commitment, with humility and trust.

A contribution to this trust comes from the many positive signals emerging from various episcopal conferences, bishops and Catholic institutions in different countries on the various continents: directives for the correct handling and prevention of abuses, which have been reiterated, updated and renewed in Germany , Austria , Australia , Canada etc.

Other spokesmen for the Roman Catholic patriarchy offer a conspiracy theory that blames the liberal media, as reported by the Guardian of London:

At last, one of Pope Benedict’s closest aides uses the word “conspiracy” in relation to the systematic global cover-up of child abuse by paedophile Catholic priests. Unfortunately, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins believes the conspiracy is against the Catholic church, which is its victim.

But there may be a stirring in the lower levels of the patriarchy as a rumbling is rising amongst the episcopate for a special synod, a gathering of bishops from around the world to deal with a problem that seems increasingly beyond the power of the Vatican to control.  As reported by John Phillips and reprinted in the progressive Catholic blog, Englightened Catholicism:

Many bishops have let it be known they want Benedict to convene a special synod or worldwide conference of bishops to examine the problem because of a growing feeling that the Vatican cannot handle this.

Yet to be seen is whether the Vatican hierarchy or a more democratic episcopacy will deal honestly with systemic problems such as a patriarchal, males-only priesthood, mandatory celibacy, secrecy, or the institutional, top-down, manipulative hierarchy itself.  Or, as many fear, will this crisis be seen as merely one of public relations?