Why the pope needs to call Vatican III

Frank Yonkof

For the past several weeks, we’ve watched as the political commentators on cable news declare that the cover-up scandal in the Vatican is “much worse than it seems.” And for the most part, they are right.

The thought of the future Pope Benedict XVI receiving warnings of child-molesting priests and failing to act, if true or untrue, is disturbing to many Catholics around the world.

Although these abuses had taken place decades before the standards for young men to enter the seminary became rigid (a whole slew of psychological examinations now take place), the Vatican still has to deal with these issues from the past. The main concern regarding this scandal is the secrecy and the lack of transparency that still affects the church today.

To close observers of Rome, it’s no secret that the Vatican has never been PR-savvy. By many accounts, the papal spokesperson, who also runs the Vatican radio station, is overworked and stretched too thin. In this world of 24-hour news and social media, the Vatican doesn’t know how to effectively communicate with today’s media.

Instead of bringing in experts on pedophilia or on the church in general, many news networks and Web sites have left the commentary to people who clearly have an agenda against the church, like Sinead O’Connor (the girl who tore up a photo of the late Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live). After remaining irrelevant for years, O’Connor has now stepped back into the spotlight for the sole purpose of speaking out against the church, and she has been featured on the Web sites of legitimate news outlets including as The Washington Post and CNN.

Once more, many news channels have pressed their political commentators into service. These people know even less about the workings of the Vatican than O’Connor, as their main expertise is the American political system, not the hierarchy of a church.

One of the more comical displays of this came in MSNBC’s interview of Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn, who compared this scandal to Nixon’s Watergate and insisted the Holy Father cannot survive this politically, predicting he would be forced to resign shortly.

After being pressed on who would force the pope to resign, Quinn admitted she didn’t know. She then concluded secular authorities would have to start the investigation that would eventually see to the Pope’s resignation, forgetting one minor detail: The Vatican is a sovereign state.

To many Catholics, the idea of the pope being forced to resign is laughable. For starters, there have only been “dozens” of Catholic protesters calling for his resignation (according to The Associated Press) out of a global population of 1 billion Catholics. Plus, most of the critics are not Catholics, which leads one to wonder why they have such a personal stake in this Vatican scandal.

But the deeper point that many are missing is the pope doesn’t step down. It is not a political office. It is a religious office that he holds until death. For Catholics, our 2,000-year history holds an important place in our church — and papal succession is a big part of that. Having the successor of St. Peter step down like a common politician is simply out of the question.

Still, if these charges are true, it represents a major low point in our church’s history, and as Catholics, we deserve a much more transparent church. It’s a sad day when people lose confidence in their church leadership, and the Vatican needs to prevent that from happening at all costs.

Instead of sitting by and letting this whole scandal run its course and let the media scrutiny die down, the church needs to take a proactive position to investigate these claims and prevent this from happening again.

As odd as it sounds, the pope has an awesome opportunity here. Because he is not a politician who has to answer to opinion polls, he has the chance to make up for past mistakes and set things right again.

In order to show people the Vatican is taking this issue seriously, Pope Benedict needs to call the Third Vatican Council. This meeting of all the world’s bishops can finally give the church an opportunity to resolve this issue of sexual abuse on a global scale.

But even more importantly, it will give Catholics worldwide a peace of mind, knowing this will never happen again. Considering church councils of this magnitude only take place every few hundred years and are usually followed by reforms, this would be a major ongoing story in the media. And the Vatican, instead of its critics, would regain control of their message.

Frank Yonkof is a sophomore newspaper journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].