Pope on the Ropes: Your 2010 Papal Scandal PrimerS

New revelations of child molestation by Catholic priests, and the Pope's indifference, have his critics and defenders locked in a holy war of words. Some anticipate his downfall. Others see a secularist smear campaign. Here's your guide to the controversy.

It's been a rough month for Pope Benedict XVI. First, his letter to Irish Catholics apologizing for past abuses by priests there didn't go over well. Then the Times printed documents showing that while Benedict headed the Church's office charged with defrocking priests, he ignored reports of a bishop who molested 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin. And before that, as archbishop of Munich, he allowed a known pedophile to continue leading a parish. Finally, this weekend the Pope had enough. He struck back against the media during his Palm Sunday address, saying he won't be "intimidated by petty gossip," and that he doesn't appreciate the "ignoble attempts" to tarnish his good name.

Yesterday, the Times ran an article that says as archbishop of Munich, the Pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, "expended more energy pursuing theological dissidents than sexual predators," and that he wasn't much concerned with the day-to-day managerial side of being archbishop. Like the annoying amount of paperwork that probably goes along with prosecuting a kiddie-toucher? Instead, he focused on more important things, like disciplining a priest for leading a mass at a peace rally in 1981. That priest eventually left the Church, disillusioned.

In an editorial on Friday, the National Catholic Reporter said, "the Holy Father needs to directly answer questions, in a credible forum, about his role […] in the mismanagement of the clergy sex abuse crisis." Andrew Sullivan thinks the Pope's "cult of total authority" stands in the way of owning up to any personal culpability, and diminishes the authority of the Catholic Church. "It's obvious he should resign. It's also obvious he cannot. That's why this crisis is so grave," Sullivan writes. Even Sinead O'Connor jumped in, railing against Benedict in a Sunday Washington Post op-ed.

The Guardian polled its readers over the weekend:

Pope on the Ropes: Your 2010 Papal Scandal PrimerS

But the Vatican is fighting back. It started Twitter pages in six different languages on March 20. The first tweet was a link to Benedict's letter to Irish Catholics. And the Pope even has a fan club! They have a website called the The Benedict Blog, and lately it has been busy countering the Pope's critics in the nasty, secular press. The Telegraph's Blogs Editor, Damian Thompson, goes after "liberal Catholics" for Pope-bashing, and for trying to "sabotage" Benedict's "liturgical reforms." New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan rushed to the Pope's defense and compared his plight to the persecution of Jesus, saying "Palm Sunday mass is surely a fitting place for us to express our love for and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering from the same unjust accusation and shouts of the mob as Jesus did."

The Times' religion reporter, Laurie Goodstein, has really pissed off the Vatican. She blew open the story of Reverend Lawrence Murphy, the kiddie-touching Milwaukee priest with a thing for deaf children. Goodstein writes:

Top Vatican officials - including the future Pope Benedict XVI - did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer."

The documents can be seen here.

Then there's Rev. Peter Hullerman. He molested boys at his parish in Germany, was sent to therapy for pedophilia, and days later returned to work with children. He was convicted of molesting boys at another parish that Benedict helped transfer him to. But supporters of the Pope are trying to lay the blame on his right hand man, Rev. Gerhard Gruber.

There's some really bizarre stuff out there, too, like this YouTube video. In a "parody" of the 2004 movie Downfall, Adolf Hitler learns of Benedict's popularity among "the youth" and loses his mind. One of Hitler's aides in the bunker tells him: "But at least we got the secular media against [Benedict]." Are they equating critics of the Pope with Nazis? No, of course not. It's a parody! Ha! Kind of like posting the picture below of Benedict, then Herr Joseph Ratzinger, as a totally unenthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth. Funny stuff!

Pope on the Ropes: Your 2010 Papal Scandal Primer

So there's your 2010 papal scandal as of today. The chorus of prominent Catholics demanding his resignation is growing, but if the Pope's latest comments are any indicator, old Ratzinger is not going down without a fight.

[Images via Getty]