RELIGION -- September 24, 2013 at 6:17 PM ET
Former and current popes respond to critics of Catholic Church's handling of sex abuse scandal
It's rather uncommon to have two popes alive at once -- traditionally, a pope holds the office until his death. But with Benedict XVI's resignation, there's a unique opportunity to hear from two leaders of the Catholic Church at the same time.
This month, both Benedict and the church's current pontiff, Pope Francis, responded to outspoken atheists vialetters published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Pope Emeritus Benedict's letter to Italian mathematician and philosopher Piergiorgio Odifreddi was published Tuesday, marking one of the first times he has made a public statement since stepping down from the papacy Feb. 28.
"As for what you say moral abuse of minors by priests, I can -- as you know -- just take note with deep concern . I have never tried to hide these things. That the power of evil penetrate to such an extent in the inner world of faith is for us a suffering which, on the one hand, we have to endure, while, on the other, we must at the same time, do everything possible to ensure that such cases do not repeated."
In a Sept. 11 letter to Italian journalist and co-founder of La Repubblica Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis also addressed, though indirectly, the sex abuse scandal.
"Believe me," Francis wrote, "in spite of its slowness, the infidelity, the mistakes and the sins that may have and may still be committed by those who compose the Church, it has no other sense and aim if not to live and witness Jesus."
That letter originally made news because Francis wrote that even atheists could receive redemption and was intended "to spark a sincere and rigorous dialogue with those who, like you, define themselves" as "for many years being a non-believer who is interested and fascinated by the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth."
"You ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith," Francis wrote. "God's mercy has no limits."