Voices Emerge Calling for Pope's Resignation

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to celebrate a Mass in Floriana, Malta, Sunday, April 18, 2010.
Pope Benedict XVI arrives to celebrate a Mass in Floriana, Malta, Sunday, April 18, 2010. Malta's top archbishop said Sunday that the church must recognize "the failures and sins" of its members as he opened a papal Mass in Malta, a heavily Catholic nation rocked by the worldwide sex abuse scandal. Church officials said up to 10,000 people attended the Mass and thousands more were expected to turn out along Pope Benedict XVI's motorcade route before he returns to Rome in the evening. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
Pope Benedict returned to the Vatican Sunday from the tiny island of Malta in the Mediterranean where he held what was called a "tearful" meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests. CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips has more.

Benedict said he had gone to Malta under a dark cloud. He seemed to mean the ash cloud that has disrupted aviation, but people also took it to mean the cloud of the child-abuse scandal hanging over the Catholic Church.

And away from the ceremonial trappings, Benedict's most important encounter on Malta was a private one with a group of men who, as orphan children in the 1980s and 1990s say they were abused by priests.

"He told me he would pray for me," said Lawrence Grech, an alleged abuse victim.

A Vatican statement afterward said the Pope would do all in his power to investigate the abuse and bring the offenders to justice.

Grech called his meeting with the Pope "the first chapter" in bringing justice and said he did not wish the Pope or church ill. He said he hoped the meeting would change his life.

But justice is exactly what abuse victims around the world say they have not been getting. The Vatican has been further stung in the past week by the release of an old internal letter congratulating a bishop from keeping an abuse case away from civil authorities.

The scandal has even caused some elements in the church, most notably an American priest named James Scahill, to suggest the unthinkable - papal resignation.

"If the leadership is unable to speak truth and deal with the fallout then they should have enough integrity to step aside and elect a pope and begin appointing bishops who will deal with this truthfully," said Scahill, whose parish is in East Longmeadow, Mass.

But that is a rare - if brave - view that runs in the face of history.

Since the middle ages Popes have considered the position a job for life.

"I would say the chances are nil. Popes don't resign," said John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet. "I mean the last pope who resigned was Hampton V in the Middle Ages and Dante put him into hell for having done this resignation."

There's a saying in the Church. Only God can fire a pope.

  • Mark Phillips
    Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.