Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States reopens the wound of the child sexual abuse scandal that has left many victims angry and dispirited over the church's mishandling of pedophile priests and its lax response to the larger problem. It was an issue certain to confront the pope once he arrived, and when asked about it while flying to Washington, he didn't demur. His candor at feeling "deeply ashamed" should signal to Catholics a sincere recognition of the damage done to individuals and the church community.
At the same time, Pope Benedict must live up to his pledge to weed out pedophiles from seminaries. He put the focus squarely on where it should be - the quality of priests, not their numbers - and for a church whose priestly ranks have seriously declined, the pope's comment underscores his seriousness.
Pope Benedict's planned meeting today with Catholic school leaders has relevance for the Baltimore Archdiocese and its contribution to educating Maryland children. Pope Benedict is likely to talk about the importance of religious education and the need to instill core values and church teachings in its youngest members. But in Baltimore, parochial schools play a more essential role: They educate thousands of children, providing a safe, nurturing environment for some of the city's most vulnerable. They complement the public schools and face similar challenges, including reduced enrollment and costly maintenance needs. The Washington Archdiocese plans to convert some of its schools to public charter schools to save money. Baltimore's Catholic leaders are working in other ways to shore up their schools, though a proposed tax credit for businesses that donate money to non-public schools failed in the legislature.
Parochial schools contribute to the city's future. Their decline would be a serious loss to Baltimore.