News / Europe

Sex Abuse Scandal Threatens Pope's Focus on Europe's Christian Roots

Five years after being elected pope, Benedict XVI is reeling from church sex scandals that risk undermining a central mission of his papacy: promoting Europe's Christian heritage.

On a sunny April morning five years ago, the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI explained his choice of a papal name to thousands of pilgrims massed in St. Peter's Square.  He cited, among other things, one of Europe's patron saints - St. Benedict of Norcia.  The pontiff called him a fundamental point of reference for Europe's unity, and a strong reminder of the region's Christian roots.

Promoting Europe's Christian heritage is a centerpiece of Benedict's papacy.  But some religion analysts fear that mission is threatened by the pedophilia crisis that has battered the Roman Catholic Church, along with some media reports, strongly denied by the Vatican, that Pope Benedict may have been responsible for some of the failings of abusive priests.

Philippe Portier is director of the Group on Society, Religion and Secularity at the French National Center for Scientific Research, in Paris.

Portier says the pedophilia scandals are seriously weakening the pope's project to re-Christianize Europe.  He believes the church will have great difficulty in regaining the confidence of Catholic activists who can put that goal into action.

Isabelle de Gaulmyn, head of the religion section for France's La Croix newspaper, agrees.

De Gaulmyn describes the fallout of the pedophilia reports as disastrous, and damaging to the church's efforts to have a legitimate voice in society, in the long term.

Pope Benedict inherited the project to promote Europe's Christian roots from his predecessor John Paul II.  A slew of statistics show a drift away from the church by Christians of all denominations.  In France, for example, about 70 percent of the population considers itself Catholic, but only about 20 percent attend mass, even occasionally.

Earlier this decade, the Catholic church worked hard, but unsuccessfully, for a mention of Europe's Christian heritage in a draft, and ultimately discarded, European constitution.  Last year, the 27-member European Union finally adopted the Lisbon Treaty to strengthen and streamline its institutions.  The treaty simply refers to a dialogue with churches.

But Johanna Touzel, spokeswoman for the Brussels-based Commission of the Bishops Conferences of the European Union, says the church still has an impact on an EU-wide level.

"First thing, we are not [only] promoting Christian roots, we are promoting human dignity and common good in all EU policies.  And this is a major difference because on these two [values] you can have non-Christians who can share them," she said,

Touzel says the pedophilia scandal has not directly affected the conference's work, but she acknowledges the church is clearly weakened because of it.

"I can only hope that this kind of earthquake in our church will lead to necessary reforms because an institution like the church [which] is eternal, still needs to reform itself to keep pertinent in the 21st century," she added.

Some church supporters believe the scandal will help re-energize the church and that the pope's evangelizing message for Europe will not be lost.  That includes Jean-Pierre Delville, a priest and theologian at the Catholic University of Leuven, in Belgium.

Father Delville says the Catholic church cannot promote Europe's Christian roots without purifying its own roots from the sin and suffering caused by abusive members.  He points to Belgium as an example.  A separate, high-profile 1996 court trial of a pedophile and murderer sparked wider soul searching within Belgian society, and prompted the church to crack down on sex abuses.

Church supporters can also take heart in a new poll published by France's La Croix newspaper.  It indicates 61 percent of Europeans believe Christian messages and values are still meaningful, even though it says seven out of 10 believe Christians do not do a good job communicating them.

Spokesman Christian Weisner, of the international Catholic reform movement We are Church, points to the past.

"In my heart and my brain, I think there is a deep hope that the church will overcome this crisis as it overcame other crises in history," said Weisner.

In France, Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a psychoanalyst and expert on priests and pedophilia, has no doubt Pope Benedict will continue to push his message of Europe's Christian roots, regardless of his present problems.

Monsignor Anatrella says Benedict is a determined pope who will not be swayed by the events of the moment.

You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More