AS HE spoke to thousands in St Peter's Square yesterday in his final address as Pope, Joseph Ratzinger will be remembered more for what he did not say. More broadly, his legacy will, inevitably, be marred by what he did not do.
The Catholic Church has stumbled from one paedophilia scandal to another, particularly the abuse of boys and young men. For decades dating back to the 1950s and '60s, priests who were discovered to have sexually abused children were spirited off to different dioceses in a bid to sweep the problem under the carpet.
As the priests were strategically shielded by church authorities, the criminals became bolder in their escapades of evil which were generally never reported to the police or courts for prosecution. The upshot: thousands of innocent children in the United States, Ireland, Canada, Latin America, Australia and elsewhere were ravaged by paedophiles parading as the disciples of Jesus. Since the early 2000s, the Church has been hit by lawsuits estimated to exceed US$2 billion, forcing some dioceses to declare bankruptcy.
That none of this was considered worthy of direct comment in his farewell address is to the Pope's shame.
Benedict XVI, now 85, had in his pre-papal career held the position of the Vatican's top cop, policing criminal conduct including paedophilia, but did not do enough to curb rampant sexual deviance. Insistence by apologists that the predators represent less than a tenth of the priesthood is little comfort to children and parents whose trust was betrayed.
Even in his last days as Pope, the Church was again rattled by allegations against Archbishop of Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, head of the Scottish church. Cardinal O'Brien, who up to days go was among the electorate to choose the new Pope, has denied claims of sexual misconduct, but was pressed by Benedict to step aside.
The Pope said he is leaving the job because of "lack of strength in mind and body", but cynics might suggest that the weight of scandal that has wracked the Church may have taken its toll.
The Roman Catholic Church is caught in a crisis of relevance. Its adherents are dwindling worldwide, including Jamaica. While the stock of churches of less vintage, like the Pentecostals, Adventists and Evangelicals, has risen, attendance and membership in the Roman Catholic Church have plunged over the last 10 years. According to the 2011 census, only 60,000 persons in Jamaica now call themselves Catholic, a 13.7 per cent decline over 2001. Fifty-two years ago, there were more than 115,000 affiliates.
Generally, there appears to be diminishing faith in faith. A considerable number of Jamaicans, 572,000, or nearly 20 per cent of the population, do not subscribe to any denomination, in a country which tends to describe itself as religious.
Truth is a fundamental imperative of the Church, a touchstone highlighted by none other than Christianity's founder, Jesus. A web of institutional corruption and cover-up has led the Catholic Church to the cliff upon which it teeters. The deficit of trust can only be closed by a penitent Pope who is committed, in word and deed, to purging the Church of pernicious perversity. Only the truth will set the Church free.
The next Pope will have the mandate of transforming the image of the Roman Catholic Church from an anachronistic organisation of reactionary old men intent on burying the truth.
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