On Easter Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI stood before a sea of Catholic worshippers in St. Peter's Square and — in grand papal tradition — said nothing about the latest sex-abuse scandal that is shaking the church.
Instead the pontiff jabbed at his critics, asserting that faith in God can lead one "towards the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion."
The "petty gossip" to which Pope Benedict obviously referred is the uproar over new revelations of serial molestation of children by Catholic priests, and the ignoring of those terrible crimes by church officials.
If the pope seems defensive, there's a reason. From 1981 to 2005, it was he — then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican office to which complaints of unpriestly behavior are routed.
One among thousands was the nauseating case of Father Lawrence Murphy, who molested as many as 200 boys at a Wisconsin school for deaf children between 1950 and 1974.
According to documents obtained through lawsuits, three consecutive archbishops in Wisconsin were informed that Father Murphy was abusing children, and yet they never told authorities. When victims complained directly to police, nothing happened.
Eventually the priest was moved to another diocese, though he spent the final 24 years of his life working with kids in other schools and parishes.
As usual, the church chose to treat Father Murphy as a confused soul and not a dangerous criminal, which he was. In a 1993 session with a social worker, he admitted to frequently victimizing the deaf youngsters.
Three years later, an archbishop in charge of the diocese wrote twice to Cardinal Ratzinger, the future pope, seeking to have Father Murphy defrocked. He got no reply.
So in 1997 the archbishop reached out to another church official in Rome, warning that grown victims were getting ready to file lawsuits that could lead to a "true scandal."
Hoping to avoid a canonical trial, Father Murphy, who was in fading health, appealed directly to Cardinal Ratzinger: "I simply want to live out the time I have left in the dignity of priesthood."
While the file contained no response from the future pope, efforts to defrock Father Murphy were soon dropped. He was buried in church vestments with his dignity intact, having robbed the same from scores of innocent children.
He should have died in prison — and he might have, if he hadn't been a priest.
A church spokesman told the New York Times that the Vatican didn't learn of Father Murphy's crimes until 1996, even though victims had been complaining since the 1950s.
The spokesman said he hadn't discussed the Wisconsin abuse case, or any other, with Pope Benedict. He surmised that Father Murphy's illness, and the absence of more recent accusations, were factors in the decision to not remove him from the priesthood.
Meanwhile, the pope himself isn't saying what he knew about the Murphy case, or if he personally halted the canonical trial.
He is likewise mum about an incident that occurred while he was an archbishop in Munich, when a pedophile priest was allowed to resume interacting with young parishioners. The Vatican says that a subordinate made the decision, and that the future pope had complete "nonresponsibility" in the matter.
Still it would be useful to know his reaction to a memo he received at the time about the predatory priest, who later went on to assault other kids.
In Ireland, disclosures of a long, widespread coverup of sex-abuse cases have prompted the resignation of two bishops, and a rare reaction from Benedict. In a letter to the country's Roman Catholics, he admitted that "grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred."
No kidding. In this country it's called obstruction of justice, and rosary beads won't get you off the hook.
To cover up is the first bureaucratic impulse in a covert culture as smothering as the Vatican's. Benedict flourished in that culture, and rose to power in its shadows.
"A plague" is what the church now calls pedophilia by its priests, but for decades it was just a dirty secret to be guarded at all costs.
Bad priests were shuffled from place to place until they finally were exposed. Lawsuits were filed, settlement checks were written and, every so often, one of these monsters actually got locked up.
If they hadn't been wearing priests' collars, none would have gotten away with what they did for as long as they did.
For nearly 25 years, the man now called pope sat in the Vatican office where these sordid cases piled up. That is a fact, not "petty gossip."
What did he know? What did he do about it?
The answers won't be offered in St. Peter's Square.