There’s a very good article at The New York Times looking at the problem of clerical abuse from the church’s position. You can read it at http://t.jmc.me/zecbk.
In addition to the two, inter-linked problems here (first, of course, the abuse and, second, the bishops who moved the predators from one parish to another, allowing them to continue their molestations), there is also a basic problem in that we all saw a systemic illness as a mere failing, a sin.
This is the way we used to see alcoholism, before we came to understand it as an illness. “Buckle up, man,” we’d say, “you gotta stop drinking.” Now, we understand that alcoholics cannot stop drinking on their own. Telling them to stop and hoping that they’ll be able to do so is futile.
We didn’t always know this. Nor, I think, did we (or the bishops) know that pedophilia was the same kind of systemic illness. These men who prey on children for their sexual gratification simply cannot stop on their own.
Is this the bishops’ fault? Clearly, no. They should not be taken to task for not knowing that it was not merely a sin like other sins. They sent the men for treatment and listened to the advice of those doing the treatment. They can legitimately say that in this they were blameless.
If malfeasance happens in an organization, it is ultimately the responsibility of the the head of an organization. The buck has to stop somewhere, and logically the responsibility rises to the top. Thusly, the bishops can legitamately claim to be blameless for reassigning the men, but they can and should be held liable for knowing about a crime that was committed — a particularly grave crime in that it wounds innocents for life — and not reporting it. For this, they should ask for forgiveness, atone for the sin and resign their positions.
And not to cozy apartments in the Lateran Palace. Better, they become auxiliaries in some other diocese and spend the rest of their days doing 8th grade confirmations.
And, this responsibility applies to all bishop, even the bishop of Rome. If he knowingly harbored a man who had committed horrible crimes against innocents without reporting him to the authorities. If, as cardinal, he ordered bishops not to report these crimes to the proper authorities under threat of excommunication, they he too is liable and should take responsibility for his actions. It is only just.