...In retrospect, the Burresi and Maciel cases crystallized a remarkable metamorphosis in Joseph Ratzinger vis-à-vis the sexual abuse crisis. As late as November 2002, well into the eruption in the United States, he seemed just another Roman cardinal in denial. Yet as pope, Benedict XVI became a Catholic Elliot Ness -- disciplining Roman favorites long regarded as untouchable, meeting sex abuse victims in both the United States and Australia, embracing "zero tolerance" policies once viewed with disdain in Rome, and openly apologizing for the carnage caused by the crisis.
In a papacy sometimes marred by scandal and internal confusion, Benedict's handling of the sexual abuse crisis has often been touted as a bright spot -- one case, at least, in which the expectations of the cardinals who elected him for a firmer hand on the rudder seem to have been fulfilled.
That background makes the scandals now engulfing the church in Europe especially explosive, because by putting the pope's all but forgotten tenure as the Archbishop of Munich from May 1977 to February 1982 under a microscope, they threaten to once again make Benedict seem more like part of the problem than the solution.
A second piece by Allen, "Keeping the Record Straight on Benedict and the Crisis," which corrects a few misconceptions promoted by e.g. the New York Times, but also includes this sentence, which is a truth much harder to accept and understand than the role played by one man:
Anyone involved in church leadership at the most senior levels for as long as Benedict XVI inevitably bears some responsibility for the present mess.
If you want a short version of both pieces you can read Allen's NYTimes op-ed, "Pope Benedict's Conversion on Sexual Abuse."
Ross Douthat's op-ed in the same paper, "A Time for Contrition," also struck me as really good.