The word “conclave” turns on the Latin word for “key,” and that is surely what the Catholic cardinals hope to find this week: a quick way out of the shuttered Sistine Chapel where they must elect a new pope. Yet because of their malfeasance, and that of their predecessors, the church itself is now locked up — not in the opulent chamber where the papal balloting unfolds, but in a dungeon of deceit, hypocrisy, and corruption.
It wasn’t the resignation of Benedict XVI that threw the church into its present institutional turmoil. But the pope’s surprising decision laid bare the depth of the problem. Consider two recent controversies: the disgrace of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the British prelate accused by priests of improper homosexual advances; and the shadow over Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who epitomizes the far broader cover-up of priestly sex abuse of minors. By focusing global attention on the men who will choose the next pope, Benedict’s resignation is revealing the extent of a catastrophic moral collapse. The question is whether the cardinals gathered in the locked room have it in them to see what really imprisons the church.