PORTLAND – The Roman Catholic hierarchs and their apologists can moan endlessly about “the petty gossip of dominant opinion” and anti-Catholic bias. That did not work for Cardinal Bernard Law, nor will it now. The Vatican’s Teflon shield is shattered.

In truth, John Paul II and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, fearing loss of patriarchal control, conspired to slam shut the windows the Second Vatican Council opened to the modern world and shore up the Church Triumphant and celibate male power. That campaign has been, on all fronts, a disaster for the church. Now revelations of the Vatican’s subordinating care for children to the “church’s” reputation demands a reckoning.

By rejecting the council’s first fruit — Latin America’s liberation theology and the implementation of a preferential option for the poor — both hierarchs initiated a precipitous decline there. The Vatican was removing the Salvadoran poor’s champion, Archbishop Oscar Romero, when he was assassinated for protesting death-squad killings.

They dumped on out-of-step theologians — Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff, Charles Curran and Tisa Balasuriya. They have carved away at the council’s well-prepared, almost unan- imously approved and welcomed liturgical reforms, again distancing the celebrant from the assembly; now mandating sexist Latinate language that won’t pray, and encouraging the Tridentine Mass, which reduces the assembly to audience.

Despite ’60s warnings that sex abusers should not continue in ministry, the hierarchy continued to coddle abusers and threaten, silence, shame, dupe or buy off victims to put the appearance of a pure institution before the dignity, innocence and healing of victims. John Paul II and bribed curial cardinals sheltered the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the Legionnaires of Christ founder-abuser and big Vatican fundraiser. Ratzinger ordered bishops to keep abuse secret and slowed defrocking processes.

The church is imploding, suffering the largest defection ever in the turn on council reforms; re-emphasis on doctrine over living the Gospel; abandonment of John XXIII’s pursuit of peace and justice for the poor; rejection of women’s equality and birth control; sex obsessions; denial of the Eucharist and pastoral care to half of the faithful for lack of male celibate priests, and continued failure to act responsibly regarding priest abuse.

To reassert authority, the patriarchy has engaged in a heartless war on “objectively disordered” gays and lesbians that runs roughshod over their dignity and human rights and flouts Vatican II recognition of church-state separation, religious liberty and primacy of conscience. In Maine, the anti-marriage equality campaign was, for many, the last straw.

Benedict XVI himself has been derelict, hiding abusers and refusing to defrock them even after they are caught. His defenders claim that he has done everything possible about abuse — except the essential, putting the healing of the abuse victims foremost by affirming their dignity.

That requires holding abusers accountable, ending legal stonewalling, removing hundreds of complicit bishops and recognizing Vatican culpability. He and they still don’t get it: Their first pastoral obligation is to give succor to the wounded.

It is time for a humble Benedict XVI to search his conscience, to acknowledge that fear of change, patriarchal authoritarianism and righteousness have led the church into a moral morass.

It is time for him to recognize that his temporizing while thousands more were victimized; his refusal to acknowledge his and the Vatican’s wrongs, and his lack of care and compassion for still-wounded victims make him unfit to lead the people of God — so it is time to resign. Before he goes, he should remove bishops and cardinals who have been party to that misdirection and abuse cover-up.

Otherwise, it is time for beleaguered priests, religious and laity to petition for Benedict’s removal, as Boston’s priests did to remove Law — to tell the patriarchs everywhere, plainly and forcefully, that the jig is up. They must go and allow the Gospel to bloom out of the hearts of the faithful.

- Special to the Press Herald