By Nadeau, Barbie
Newsweek , Vol. 155, No. 17
Byline: Barbie Nadeau
The sex-abuse scandal of the early 2000s never did much damage to the popularity of John Paul II, the pope at the time. Pope Benedict XVI can only wish he were so fortunate. Ahead of the pope's official visit to Malta last weekend, Hitler mustaches and the Maltese word for "pedophilia" were painted on billboards displaying his picture. A petition opposing a papal visit to Britain this coming September has already collected more than 10,000 signatures in that country, and the writers Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are threatening a citizen's arrest of the 82-year-old pontiff for crimes against humanity. And in the United States, a Gallup/USA Today poll found that Benedict's approval rating among Catholics and non-Catholics hit a new low last week, plunging to 40 percent from a high of 63 percent in 2008. In contrast, John Paul II's approval rating in America never dipped below 61 percent, even as the church paid out billions in compensation to victims of pedophile priests.
Support is flagging even in Benedict's traditional bastions of popularity. Thousands in his German homeland are abandoning the church: the diocese in Freiburg lost more than 5,300 parishioners in March alone. And 56 percent of Germans say they have lost all confidence in the Catholic Church. …