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Pope reportedly too ill to deal with sex abuse

Pope John Paul II's silence over the recent explosion of sex abuse scandals involving US Catholic priests is seen within the Vatican as evidence that the pontiff is too ill and disengaged from church business to respond, according to several Vatican officials.

The ailing pope is now incapable of forcefully taking on such a volatile issue, the sources said. The pope, who is 81 and suffers from Parkinson's disease, has canceled a number of recent events while nursing an arthritic knee.

While still mentally alert, he is described as weary, struggling, feeble and - despite official protestations to the contrary - no longer effectively in charge of running the church he heads.

Those who are in positions of authority have been reluctant to deliver the details of the recent scandals to the pope, the sources said. And because the pedophilia issue is politically dangerous, no one has been willing to step into the vacuum and take responsibility.

The Vatican officials, who provided these accounts on condition that they remain unidentified, are loyalists who staunchly defend the pope's positions. They said John Paul did not take much interest in day-to-day operations at the Vatican even when he was well, and is in fact only now being fully briefed on the problem.

The Vatican's official position is that the pope has already adequately addressed the issue in a general, one-paragraph apology to victims of sex abuse by clergy - an apology included in a recently released document on a bishop's conference that was held several years ago.

John Paul's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, has characterized the pope as keenly aware of the sex abuse problem, fully in command of church affairs and deeply saddened by the revelations.

International Herald Tribune

20 Mar 2002