Not being a Catholic I don't have much cause to talk about the heightening sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. But as I was thinking about it yesterday I remembered what Timothy Radcliffe OP said about symbols in What is the Point of Being a Christian?. Our age is one in which images are more powerful than ever, so much so that some worry about the diminished power of words. If the Church is to communicate effectively it must also harness the power of images - and of course we already have powerful images in the sacraments. In the Lord's Supper, for example, we have a "foretaste of the feast to come." It is a sign of hope. Through these signs of hope
we open windows for God's transforming grace in the world. It is through attentiveness to meaning and not brute force that we share in God's speaking a word that brings the Kingdom, that says "let human beings flourish" and we will. In The Merchant of Venice Portia says, "How far that little candle throws his beams/So shines a good deed in a naughty world."He gives the example of the former Pope:
When Pope John Paul II went to Jerusalem many Israelis were sceptical, according to Rabbi Jonathan Sachs. What difference might this visit make? More words. But he transformed the situation when he went to the Wailing Wall and took his silent place there with Jews lamenting the destruction of the Temple. He shared their desolation. They were moved "by the sight of that frail, lonely individual standing by the wall of what was once the Temple, carrying with him the weight of centuries of estrangements, determined to repent of the past and chart a new way forward". Signs that speak, work.Pope Benedict needs such a sign now. He should gather together a representative group of the abuse victims and announce new rules stating that all suspected cases of child abuse should be handed over to the local authorities and any priests attempting to cover up such cases will themselves be subject to severe disciplinary action by the Church. Then Benedict should abdicate.
I don't know what he knew or didn't know. It hardly matters: public perception is that he had some part in the cover-up. There could be no more powerful sign than for one of the most powerful men in the world to give up his power as an act of contrition. Even if he contributed in no way to the cover-up it would still demonstrate real humility and willingness to sacrifice himself for the sins of others.
It would also serve as a sign of hope because it would show determination to make abusive priests accountable for their sins. It would be very difficult for subsequent popes to return to the status quo ante. Such a sign would perhaps "open windows for God's transforming grace in the world".