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The priest sex abuse scandal is closing in on the pope

Opinion: He needs to stop blaming the media for the failings of his own leadership and his own church.

Pope Benedict XVI (R) arrives to lead the mass in memory of John Paul II on the anniversary of his death in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Mar. 29, 2010. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

BOSTON — I tried all day Easter Sunday to bite my tongue.

And I pretty much succeeded as we celebrated the day in a way that a lot of Catholic families do. Our family went to Mass and we gathered all the nieces and nephews for a big Easter egg hunt.

And through it all I didn’t say a word. I was trying to focus on the meaning of the day and having fun with the kids and maybe for once not paying so much attention to the news cycle which all through Holy Week was centering on the Catholic Church.

I didn't say a word with my family about the way the Vatican has handled the latest priest sex abuse scandals, which is deepening a stress crack in the foundation of the church that cuts beyond America now and runs deep into Europe and beyond.

I didn’t say a word about how disgraceful it is that the church hierarchy seems to care more about protecting itself than it does about reaching out to those victims who’ve been so damaged by the abuse, and who have so actively pursued costly litigation that has left a string of arch dioceses in Boston and elsewhere in financial ruin.

I didn’t say a word about the failed stewardship of those bishops and cardinals — and reportedly the pontiff himself when he was a cardinal in Munich and then again when he served in the Vatican — who for so many decades sought to sweep the problem under the rug by shuttling predatory priests from one congregation to the next.

But now it’s the Sunday after Easter and, well, I’m not biting my tongue. The allegations continue to mount.  A front page story in The  New York Times on Saturday reported that in the mid-1980s, Pope Benedict XVI, when he headed up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, signed a letter that delayed the defrocking of a uniquely sadistic pedophile priest who tied up and abused young boys in a California church rectory.

And over the last week I got around to actually reading the text of the outrageous sermon by a Franciscan priest that was delivered in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican at a solemn Good Friday service. With Pope Benedict XVI sitting on the altar of the Holy See, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa compared the worldwide criticism of the church’s burgeoning sexual abuse scandal to the "shameful aspects of anti-Semitism."  In this worldview, the Vatican sees the media as the villain intent on a “defamatory campaign,” as one Vatican official has put it, to damage the church.

It is an insult to history to make such a claim and more importantly it is a denigration of the suffering of the Jewish people through the holocaust to make such a comparison. That Pope Benedict XVI — who came of age amid the evils of Nazism in his native Germany — did not condemn that sermon is a sin, proof that he still doesn't understand that it's not the media's fault that the Church leadership has failed so dramatically to confront a darkness within. That the pope didn't understand how much that sermon would anger the world's Jewish communities is one more example of the tin ear he seems to have in understanding Catholic-Jewish relations.

These two issues — the priest sex abuse scandal and worsening relations between Catholics and Jews — are through this Easter sermon intertwined, and they are twisting around his papacy like a vile and destructive weed. He won't be forced to resign, but most Vatican observers would say his legacy will be badly tarnished.

So I just can't keep quiet any more. I can’t see any sense of humility or respect in trying to do so. In fact, I see some dangerous complicity in silence.