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Catholic sexual abuse scandal sharpens church rift over what a priest should be

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"Vianney is thought to be a useful model for many new Catholic priests in rural or developing nations," says Andreas Batlogg, editor of the Jesuit-based Catholic intellectual journal Stimmen der Zeit in Munich, Germany.

Yet Benedict’s choice of Vianney caused loud and palpable groans in many parts of US and Europe. Modern-oriented Catholics and theologians see the choice as a political model of a priest closed off from society, overly idealized, hard for young Catholics to relate to, and one whose effect will be to increase a sense of distance between priests and ordinary people, and promote a view of priests more spiritually gifted than regular Catholics.

“We need an example, but this is a pastor of 230 people in a small French village in the 19th century,” says Mr. Batlogg.

A different model of priest

Pope Benedict's own experience as a priest dates to a brief post-war period in the almost wholly Catholic Bavarian countryside – a time the pope describes fondly in his writings.

Those pushing a different model say that priests work in a world Vianney had no idea of – crowded urban parishes with high-powered professionals, including women; a world of counseling on drugs and pornography, violence, and the other ills that flesh is heir to in a spiritually confused and values-conflicted world unlike French or Bavarian towns.

At the largest Benedictine school in the US, the education of new priests – which started 10 years ago under the influence of then-Cardinal Ratzinger – moved sharply toward the model of the priest educated in isolation, when Vatican directives began to forbid men and women educated together.

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