The Catholic Church is quickly turning itself into a case study of how to fan the flames of scandal into a raging three-alarm PR conflagration. The latest incarnation of church scandal was standard enough at the outset. Over the course of the past year, cases involving priests' sexual abuse of children cropped up in Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Brazil, and Mexico. The charges acquired another layer when The New York Times found a paper trail showing that Pope Benedict XVI himself failed to defrock a bishop who had molested some 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin. They shot to a higher level of scandal when the Times revealed that Benedict had also allowed an abusive priest in Germany to return to work within days of beginning therapy—and that the priest went on to molest more boys in a different parish. All this, just in time for Easter.
But apparently, it's not enough for the Vatican to be embroiled in a pedophilia-cover-up scandal that leads straight to the pope's doorstep during its most high-profile week of the year. Rather than let the matter simmer, they've decided to ensure that it stays in the news cycle by issuing a steady stream of scapegoat-fingering statements. First, they went straight for the source; the pope slammed media coverage as "petty gossip" in a Palm Sunday address, while his cardinals specifically attacked America's paper of record in an article posted on the Vatican Web site. The Catholic News Agency followed up by letting Father Gabriele Amorth, an Italian exorcist, explain that the reporting was "prompted by the devil." (The devil, he added, was probably also behind any cases of abuse.) Then today came the icing on the cake: a senior Vatican priest attributed the scandal to the kind of widespread persecution that characterized the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism." Analogy, fail.