A cardinal qualification
Pope Benedict XVI continues to apologize for the abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, saying Friday: "We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again." As The Times has noted, the Vatican -- after initially trying to blame the scandal on the media, secularism and post-Vatican II changes in the church -- has shifted to contrition mode. It also has made it clear that accusations of abuse by priests be reported to civil authorities.
But if the pope really wants to do everything possible to prevent future abuse -- and episcopal cover-ups -- he should make a clean record on this subject a requirement for advancement in the church. Before the end of this year, Benedict is expected to name at least 12 new members of the College of Cardinals. It would be a dramatic gesture if he excluded from consideration any bishop who has been credibly shown to have turned a blind eye to abuse.
Even better, the pope could elevate to the college clergymen -- and even laymen, who could be ordained as deacons -- who have spoken out against the hierarchy's complicity in hushing up or sugarcoating clerical abuse. Bringing critics into the ecclesiastical inner circle wouldn't guarantee that the church would live up to its new-found commitment to accountability, but it would be a dramatic gesture.