Speculation is mounting over who will become the next pope after Pope Benedict XVI shocked the Catholic Church on Monday when he became the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years. Benedict’s resignation comes as the Catholic Church is facing scrutiny over its handling of the widening priest sexual abuse scandal and its crackdown on liberal nuns. We’re joined by Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Sister Simone Campbell of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK, which was heavily criticized by the Vatican last year. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Speculation is mounting over who will become the next pope after Pope Benedict shocked the Catholic Church Monday when he became the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years. The 85-year-old pope cited ill health as the reason for his departure.
POPE BENEDICT XVI: [translated] Dear brothers, I have convoked you to this consistory not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.
AMY GOODMAN: Catholics around the world expressed shock over the pope’s resignation.
GIUSEPPE PERAZZO: [translated] I was shocked, because I love the pope. Every Sunday I come to listen to him and be blessed by him and to shout, "Long live the pope!" But to understand that he’s only human, unfortunately—it would have been worse tonight if the news had been the pope had died.
ALICIA GOMEZ: [translated] The pope also has the right to get sick. If he is sick to the point where he cannot carry out his function, then he should resign.
CLAUDIA CANO: [translated] The thing is that he is a bit old, and he wants to rest. It is too much. He has had to deal with too much. The parents of children who were molested, I think that has left him really tired.
AMY GOODMAN: Pope Benedict’s tenure was marked by several scandals, perhaps most notably his handling of sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, including allegations he ignored at least one case of abuse while serving as a cardinal. Documents show in 1985 he delayed efforts to defrock a priest convicted of molesting children. Meanwhile, last year he oversaw an assessment from the Vatican that found the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States had, quote, "serious doctrinal problems" because it had challenged the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, among other things.
For more, we’re joined in Chicago by two guests who are intimately familiar with these issues: Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, and Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice group, which was heavily criticized in the Vatican’s report last year. Since then, she went on to become one of the so-called "Nuns on the Bus." During the election last year, the group went on a national tour to bring attention to the impact that vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget plan could have on the nation’s poor.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Sister Campbell, your response? Were you surprised by the pope’s announcement? And this last years of the pope’s reign, what—how would you characterize it?
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: I was totally surprised, totally taken off guard, like I think most Catholics were or most of the world was. I think the papacy of Pope Benedict is really mixed. There have been some very strong teachings that have been very important. His encyclical, "Charity in Truth," was really historic in lifting up the needs of those who are oppressed in our world and saying that until you have justice you can’t have charity. And ironically, it’s that very same struggle for justice that I think has been at the heart of some of the most difficult parts. The whole reality that there’s been historical sexual abuses of children and other really horrible events that have created victims all over the world has not been adequately dealt with by our church or our leadership. And it’s that juxtaposition of some really good things and some extremely painful things that I make it—that I say that it’s been a very mixed time.
AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Blaine, you’re with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Your assessment of Pope Benedict?
BARBARA BLAINE: Well, I think Pope Benedict is being held out as this hero in dealing with the sex abuse crisis, but I think it’s really important to recognize that he’s made lofty statements, and he’s even met with some of the survivors, and he has offered apologies, but I think it’s really important that we not mistake words for deeds and for action. And if you look carefully, he hasn’t really taken the kinds of action that might protect children across the globe today and in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: Where does the Catholic Church go from here, Sister Simone Campbell? What do you expect to happen?
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I think there’s going to be a lot of theorizing about who will be the next pope. But I think right now there needs to be a serious conversation about where do we go as a church, what is the church that we seek, that we want, and to have many of the conversations about how can we live Christ’s message today in the world, and that this should be a broad conversation, not just limited to the 120 electors, but that all of us who care deeply about our faith and living our faith in the modern world need to engage that conversation and to lift it up and inform the 120 electors that will convene in Rome later in March.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about, Sister Campbell—I mean, you went around the country on a bus—
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —talking about—well, at the time, it was Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential candidate’s budget. But talk more about Pope Benedict. He recently spoke to thousands of followers in the Vatican on a day recognized by the Catholic Church as the World Day of Peace. He addressed the issue, for example, on economic inequality. His emphasis on that and his views of capitalism? Maybe we can play a clip of—of the pope on this issue of economic inequality.
TERRY KOHUT: I was afraid to tell my mother, because I didn’t think she would believe me. She’d say, "A priest would never do something like that to children."
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to pull out of that and just get a comment on economic inequality.
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I mean, that is the amazing thing, that Pope Benedict has challenged first-world nations to say that it’s our trade policy, it’s our economic approach, it’s the high concentration of wealth in our nation by those at the top, that has created this grave inequality that then does not allow all people to live with their human dignity, to have the basic needs. He’s been extremely strong, extremely direct, in his words and in his teaching. It’s that that has really fueled our Nuns on the Bus, because what we did was to say that Paul Ryan’s budget was in fact just a continuation of the business as usual, keeping money at the top, and those who are the working poor in our society, keeping them poor. Pope Benedict spoke out strongly against that and has consistently supported the needs of those at the economic margins of our society.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a clip from a recent documentary by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney that investigates a long-simmering case of pedophilia here in the United States that involves the Catholic Church, examining how a charismatic priest in Milwaukee abused more than 200 deaf children in a Catholic boarding school under his control. The young students were molested again and again by Father Lawrence Murphy, who stalked them in their dorm rooms at night, on trips to his rural cabin, and even in the confessional booth. This is a clip from Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.
TERRY KOHUT: I was afraid to tell my mother, because I didn’t think she would believe me. She’d say, "A priest would never do something like that to children." I kept it a secret. My mother had already been through so much pain. My brother had been electrocuted. My father had hung himself. My mother had been through so much pain, and I didn’t want to hurt her.
GARY SMITH: It was hard for me to communicate with my father, and so my dad would speak, and Father Murphy would interpret. My father never wrote back and forth, because I didn’t know how to write well, so I depended on Father Murphy and the nuns to communicate with my father.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Terry Kohut, one of the courageous deaf men who later came forward to protect other children from Father Murphy and to demand he be held accountable. That’s from Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney. The priest’s victims tried for more than three decades to bring him to justice, but the film shows the Church neither defrocked him nor referred him for prosecution. It also uncovers documents from secret Vatican archives that portray the pope as both responsible and helpless in the face of the abuse. Talk more, Barbara Blaine, about the particular role of this pope and his role as a cardinal, as well.
BARBARA BLAINE: I think it’s really important to recognize that that very case that you’re referring to with those boys at the school for the deaf children in Milwaukee, Pope Benedict previously worked in a position as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in that role, he was a cardinal and known as Cardinal Ratzinger. And at that time, back in the ’70s and in the ’80s, the victims were speaking up and coming forward and trying to get some semblance of justice. And more importantly, they wanted to prevent other children from going through what they had been through. So they contacted the people in the Vatican, and Cardinal Ratzinger was involved.
AMY GOODMAN: The pope now.
BARBARA BLAINE: And he had the opportunity to intervene, remove Father Murphy from his position in the priesthood, and Cardinal Ratzinger chose not to do that. There is—I mean, there are letters, apparently. Father Murphy started writing to Cardinal Ratzinger and asked that he be permitted to live out the rest of his life as a priest in good standing. And Cardinal Ratzinger made the decision that that was more important than ensuring the safety of children or trying to heal those who they knew had been violated by Father Murphy.
And I think that that’s really, unfortunately, the legacy that Pope Benedict left for us, one with words but not action. I mean, something simple like today, and in these last two weeks, we would even encourage Pope Benedict to use these last days of his reign in a way that could protect children. For example, if Pope Benedict were to encourage all bishops across the globe to do what about 30 bishops in the U.S. have done, which is to post on their websites the identities of all the credibly accused priests from that diocese. If Pope Benedict would encourage that, that would immediately make children safer, because then parents and teachers would know to keep the children away from those men. Or if he were to encourage every bishop in the world to turn over any evidence they have of sex crimes to police, that could go a long way. If he were to punish any bishop or church official who has enabled or covered up for a predator, or if he would give a reward to a whistleblower, those are actions that we believe would show that children’s safety is important. And unfortunately, Pope Benedict hasn’t taken any real concrete action. He has just made nice statements and given us words.
AMY GOODMAN: As early as 2005, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who is the pope today, obliquely referred to priestly abuse in meditations he wrote for the Way of the Cross on Good Friday. He wrote, quote, "How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Him!" Finally, Sister Campbell, where—what you think the pope could do on this issue before he leaves?
SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I think that the most important thing that he could do is try to respond in a pastoral way, finally, and to really, as Barbara says, do specific actions that would protect children. And I think the challenge here is that Pope Benedict has always been an academic, has always been in Vatican offices, and really has never walked with people who suffer. He has the academic approach regarding economics, and he doesn’t know what it is to live in poverty. He has the academic approach of what children have suffered. He needs to really, I would hope, in these last two weeks, maybe extend himself pastorally and say that for the sake of all of God’s children, that there needs to be protections, and that all Catholics need to respond in a way that supports children, supports families, and prevents abuse in the future and prevents the exploitation of poor people in our nation and in our world. Those are two issues that he could take a step on.
AMY GOODMAN: Sister Simone Campbell, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice group, and also Barbara Blaine, president and founder of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.