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The Dispatch: More from CWR
Cardinals attend a meeting at the synod hall in the Vatican March 4. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Much has been said in the lead-up to the conclave about the possibility of a new pope from the “emerging world”—from South America, Africa, or Asia. Even some cardinals have said that it may be time to take the historic step of electing a non-European Supreme Pontiff.

On his blog, Father John Zuhlsdorf raises an interesting question about what such a move could mean with regard to the sex-abuse scandals that have rocked parts of the Catholic world in recent years:

Remember how the newsies found a thin story about something that happened in Munich when Pope Benedict was still Cardinal Archbishop there?  They beat him with that story for months.  They are still beating him with it.

I propose to Their Eminences that it could be better to elect someone whose record on clerical sexual abuse we know a lot about.

Otherwise, in this media age, the next Pope’s pontificate could be hobbled from the starting gate.

In some countries, such as these USA, Ireland, Canada, a little bit in some European countries, the press has been crawling all over diocesan bishops for years and a great deal has been exposed to the light of day.

This has not yet occurred in the “emerging” Churches, such as in The Philippines or Brazil.

In fact, has it happened yet even in Italy?

It will.

If a cardinal from one of these places is elected, it will happen a lot faster wherever they have served.

Do any of us want to discover that the next Pope screwed up something about the abuse of kids in his diocese?

In essence, the argument is that cardinals from North America and some areas of Europe have had every aspect of their careers picked apart and scrutinized by a media intent on uncovering every whiff of scandal, and that this just hasn’t been the case for those prelates from so-called “emerging” countries. Thus, the argument goes, there is a greater risk that a pope elected from one of these areas would have a history of mismanaging abusive priests that wouldn’t come to light until after the conclave, when a ready media will start seriously looking into the past of the new pontiff.

Of course, the underlying assumption of this argument is that the kind of clerical abuse that has been uncovered in the US, Canada, Ireland, and parts of Western Europe is occurring—or has occurred—in all other parts of the world, only without the intense media attention. Father Z seems pretty confident that this is case—I don’t know that he is correct about that.

On a related note, yesterday Cardinal Francis George of Chicago told journalists in Rome, “Whoever's elected pope…obviously has to accept the universal code of the church now, which is zero tolerance for anyone who has ever abused a minor child, (who) therefore may not remain in public ministry in the church.”
About the Author
Catherine Harmon

Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
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