Only God Can Fire Pope Benedict After Scandals

Canon Law: Pope Benedict is "untouchable," despite Vatican cover-ups of abuse.

ByABC News
March 25, 2010, 1:11 PM

March 26, 2010— -- As outrage mounted over the latest Catholic Church sex scandal, writer Christopher Hitchens called for the arrest of Pope Benedict XVI, and singer Sinead O'Connor said the pope should face a criminal investigation.

Protesters rallied outside the Vatican, angry that an office under his command had stopped the prosecution in 1996 of Wisconsin priest Lawrence Murphy, who admitted molesting 200 boys at a school for the deaf where he worked for 20 years.

The secret church trial was halted after Murphy made a personal appeal to the future pope asking for mercy.

The Murphy case emerged as Catholic anger was already building over growing sex scandals in Ireland and in the pope's native Germany where his level of trust has fallen to 24 percent, according to a recent Stern magazine poll.

The Vatican continued to be rocked almost daily about new revelations. The New York Times reported today that the pope when he was archbishop of Munich was included on a memo about a priest he had sent to therapy for pedophilia was returning to pastoral work. The priest was later convicted of molesting boys.

French bishops have sent the pope a letter saying they are ashamed of priests who committed "abominable acts" by molesting and raping children.

And the conservative group Legionaries of Christ issued a statement today apologizing for the behavior of the group's founder, Marcial Maciel, who was determined by a church investigation to have molested seminarians and fathered a child by a woman with whom he had a long affair.

Those would be devastating scenarios for most world leaders, but not for the pope.

Experts in canon law say only a heavenly bolt of lightning can take the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from power as the supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

"The only person who can fire him is God," said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, who worked at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C., and was one of the first whistle blowers when the sex scandals broke in 1984.

"A pope is never forced to resign, not under the current canon law," said Robert Mickens, the Vatican correspondent for the Tablet weekly. "A pope can voluntarily resign, but it's interesting... Who would take his resignation?"

The number of popes who may have resigned has been estimated as high as 10, according to Thomas Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.