Pope Benedict XVI is certainly embattled these days, yet his biggest foe in the crisis over the sexual abuse of children by clergy is turning out to be the very people who are his most ardent defenders.
It seems every time a senior Vatican official opens his mouth, he (they are, of course, all men) inserts a foot and an ugly headline is generated -- whether it is the papal preacher comparing the pope's woes to anti-Semitism or a top cardinal using Easter Mass to compare widespread reports of clergy abuse to "petty gossip."
Now Benedict's No. 2, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, has taken a misstep.
During a visit to Chile on Monday, Bertone -- sometimes known as the vice-pope -- rejected charges that mandatory celibacy for priests leads to sexual abuse of children and instead linked pedophilia to homosexuality:
"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true," said Bertone, according to The Associated Press account. "That is the problem."
It is not clear what Bertone has been told about the "relation between homosexuality and pedophilia," since the existing research shows no such link. Indeed, married men and family members are far and away most likely to be pedophiles. Moreover, pedophiles appear to be attracted to pre-pubescent children of both sexes; they lose interest when children start to develop into sexually mature people. (At least Bertone was correct in noting that celibacy is not a cause of pedophilia.)
Bertone also chose the wrong venue for his analysis, given that one of the high-profile pedophile cases in Chile involves a priest who had sex with young girls.
Interestingly, Bertone's take on abuse also appears to differ from that of his boss.
Two years ago, as he was traveling to the United States for a pastoral visit, Benedict addressed the issue of clergy abuse and said, "I do not wish to talk at this moment about homosexuality, but about pedophilia, which is another thing."
Maybe the pope should say more and his advisers less.
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