In his Palm Sunday homily today, Pope Benedict XVI dismissed critiques of his handling of recent allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors as the "petty gossip of dominant opinion." Admittedly, Benedict did not explicitly mention the recent scandals, but his remarks were very much in tune with those of his press staff and other official Vatican organs over the last week or two. The reference was egregiously obvious.
Not surprisingly, Benedict continues to display a studied ignorance of the gravity of the situation, coupled with a breathtaking arrogance and an almost complete lack of understanding of how modern forms of communication work (and what they mean for his pontificate). Regrettably, that trend seems likely to continue until such time as the present generation of cardinals passes collectively to its everlasting reward--and even then, there's no guarantee that those who replace them will understand the modern world any better, given how few of them actually seem to be living in it.
For what it's worth, however, I will offer the pontiff a bit of advice on how he should be handling this scandal. First and foremost, when another allegation of abuse is brought to light, the only proper response--from the Vatican on down to the local rectory--is to apologize, profusely and sincerely, as often as it takes. Any other starting point will end in failure.
Second, investigate the allegations as thoroughly and openly as possible, consistent with the need to safeguard the privacy of innocent parties and to be respectful of due process. That means that no one from the hierarchy can be directly involved in carrying out the investigation, the reports can't be sent exclusively to the Curia or the local ordinary, and all interested parties must be publicly enjoined to cooperate frankly and fully with the competent authorities.
Third, when someone is found to have committed an act of abuse, or to have covered one up, that person must be disciplined appropriately within the Church, and also face whatever civil penalties may apply. There can be no exceptions to this rule.
Fourth, stop pretending that this rampant culture of abuse has anything whatsoever to do with sexual orientation. End, immediately, the idiotic ban on openly gay or lesbian individuals taking vows or serving in the Church: it is scapegoating every bit as perniciously wrong as the events we commemorate this week. Until you admit that the problem is with the culture of the Church and not the sexual orientation of persons within it, the problem will persist--and get worse.
To sum up, Your Holiness, you should pray more--a lot more--and preach less. Speak in public about the scandals only to apologize for them or to announce the results of investigations that have been carried out or new directives that actually have some chance of fixing what is quite obviously broken in the Church. Or, to quote the prophet Micah, "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." Concentrate particularly on the first and last of those three injunctions.