To understand the predicament of the European Catholic Church as Pope Benedict XVI's tenure becomes increasingly mired in scandal, it's worth remembering why the former Joseph Ratzinger chose that name in the first place.
Speaking to the crowds in Vatican City's St. Peter's Square on April 27, 2005, immediately after succeeding John Paul II, Ratzinger made clear the choice of the name was meant in large part because of his desire to look to the example of St. Benedict of Norcia, the influential sixth-century cleric whose ideas led to the founding of the Benedictine order.
"He represents a fundamental point of reference for the unity of Europe and a strong reminder of the unrenounceable Christian roots of its culture and civilization," the new pope said that day, leading the New York Times to highlight in its lead paragraph "the Christian roots of Europe" as a possible "central theme" of Benedict's papacy.
If overseeing a revival of those "Christian roots" was a central goal of this papacy, as subsequent developments indicated, it's not too early or too sweeping to declare that this goal now stands virtually no chance of success. Recent widespread revelations of sexual misconduct by clergy members in Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, and elsewhere, coupled with a shoot-the-messenger defense that just made matters worse, have dramatically damaged the Catholic Church. And, though the Bavarian-born pontiff probably had his best shot at successfully reviving the faith in his homeland, the German church's reputation is now at a drastic low.
According to a Forsa Institute poll published last month in the German news magazine Stern, after new revelations on child sex abuse around the world, only 31 percent of Germans rated Benedict's tenure as pope good or very good, while 45 percent gave him bad marks. (In April 2007, 70 percent of Germans had rated the pope good or very good on the same poll.)