VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - DECEMBER 31: Pope Benedict XVI leads the First Vespers and Te Deum prayers at St. Peter's Basilica on December 31, 2009 in Vatican City, Vatican. On new year's eve two different perspectives converge; one is the end of the calendar year, the other is the solemn liturgy of Mary, which concludes with the Octave of the Nativity. The first event is common to everyone, the second is for believers. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Charges of sex abuse by priests are not new to the Catholic Church, but the allegation that a sitting Pope may have participated in the cover-up of misconduct has shocked observers -- and mobilized Benedict's defenders.
Outspoken Catholic commentator Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic called for drastic action, saying Benedict is culpable as "head of the organization that took responsibility for investigating these cases for so long, his complicity in this vast and twisted criminal conspiracy is not in dispute." "It's hard to imagine a deeper crisis for the Catholic hierarchy than this," he writes. "If the church is to survive - and it will because it is the vessel of eternal truth - it will have to go through a wrenching transformation. Beginning with the resignation of this Pope and an end to priestly celibacy."
The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. took issue with the Vatican's defense. "The church needs to cast aside the lawyers, the PR specialists and its own worst instincts, which are human instincts. Benedict could go down as one of the greatest popes in history if he were willing to risk all in the name of institutional self-examination, painful but liberating public honesty, and true contrition."
The Telegraph's veteran religious affairs reporter, Damian Thompson, expressed clear disgust for "the culture of secrecy and cowardice that enabled wicked men to go unpunished" but cast doubt on the notion that the Pope participated in a cover-up of any abuse. "I do, however, get the very strong feeling that the Pope’s enemies, including his enemies in the Church, are trying desperately hard to discover serious complicity on his part in a child abuse case. Because that would be just so convenient, wouldn’t it?" he writes. "It drives me crazy that so much energy is being devoted to trying to acquire the papal scalp while certain profoundly compromised bishops and cardinals have managed to slip out of the public eye – and even land plum appointments in Rome."
David Gibson, writing for Politics Daily, thinks Benedict needs to speak openly and honestly about his actual role in the scandal. "The danger is not so much that the pope will resign -- that won't happen, and maybe can't happen, under the church's arcane rules and traditions," he writes. "The real risk is that with new reports of his own record emerging seemingly daily, with doubts about his candor growing just as quickly, and with protesters parading in front of the Vatican, the bishop of Rome, despite the aura and authority of his office -- handed down from St. Peter himself -- will begin to look like every other bishop these days. And that's most definitely not a good thing for him -- or the church."