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

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid