Nonetheless, I think certain tropes in the media coverage of the Pope's current visit are highly misleading, and are letting Pope Benedict minimize the betrayal of trust presided over by himself and his late predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
First, let's acknowledge that the Pope has repeatedly and publicly addressed the sex abuse scandal, and has stated that it is "a deep shame" that he personally feels. And, at long last, he has met with some victims (albeit carefully selected, "respectful" and "socially adept" victims who remain loyal to the hierarchy, thus shielding the Pope from any untoward displays of anger).
That said, the media has repeatedly stated that this crisis "erupted in 2002." (See, for example, the previous link). That is not really so. In point of fact, media coverage of the scandal began in the mid 1980s, as evidenced by this 1986 news report, and by the fledgling efforts to address the topic that soon gave way to a 1993 papal letter that deplored the moral wrong but emphasized equally the harm done by disseminating "scandal".
The Church's defenders, such as Philip Jenkins in the conservative magazine First Things, were writing as early as 1996 that the "crisis" (which Jenkins placed in scare quotes) began in 1985 and "reached its height in 1992-93", was being used by liberals within the Church to undermine its traditionalist structure and lead to marriage for priests, women priests and heaven knows what other enormities. (In fact, as this timeline shows, the crisis can be traced to the late 1940s, and accelerated with each decade of Church cover-up).
The second media trope that is misleading is to allow Benedict to speak of being "deeply ashamed" of the crisis and yet not to note his own personal role in it. In January 2001, then-Cardinal Ratzinger issued a letter affirming that the 1962 papal edict Crimine solicitationis still pertained, and that, as Ratzinger's letter states, "Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret," mandating silence for investigators, witnesses, and, it seems, victims, on pain of excommunication. (Another link may be found here; according to the Guardian, a "spokeswoman in the Vatican press office declined to comment when told about the contents of the letter," on the ground that it was "not a public document").
Benedict's generalized expressions of sympathy for the victims, and shame on behalf of the Church do not address the personal role that he, John Paul II, and, to my horror, John XXIII (who issued Crimine solicitationis) played in allowing this monstrous, 60 year long breach of trust in the name of protecting the institution unspool. That's why, as an apology, it is absolutely unavailing.
Moreover, the auguries for the future are unpromising. While Cardinal William Levada has indicated that the Church may reform some of the canon laws obstructing victims charging clergy with sexual misconduct, the only specific reform mentioned is a relaxing of the statute of limitations. Moreover, in the same article, Cardinal Levada is quoted as displaying a blithe unconcern for the behavior of the bishops over the past decades in reshuffling clergy from post to post:
[Cardinal Levada] said he did not foresee punishing bishops who failed to remove priests suspected of molesting young people.Cardinal Levada, who in 2006 was appointed to replace Benedict as Prefect of the Congregation, was criticized by SNAP as "slow to act, harsh to victims and committed to secrecy" in molestation cases.
“I personally do not accept that there is a broad base of bishops who are guilty of aiding and abetting pedophiles, and if I thought there were, or knew of them, I would certainly talk to the pope about what could be done about it,” the cardinal said.
“I am aware of bishops who have admitted to making mistakes, but those seem to be mistakes grounded in taking counsel that didn’t turn out to be good advice,” he said, explaining that he was referring to reports from psychologists and therapists.