What a rancid stench is emanating yet again from the Catholic Church, and particularly from the chambers of Pope Benedict XVI himself in the wake of Laurie Goodstein‘s N.Y. Times story that Catholic Big Guy #1 shielded a Wisconsin-based child-molesting priest in the mid ’90s in order to avoid a public scandal.

“Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit,” Goodstein has reported.

“The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.”

Today’s N.Y. Times editorial states that “[it’s] hard to see how Vatican officials did not draw the lessons of the grueling scandal in the United States, where more than 700 priests were dismissed over a three-year period. But then we read Goodstein’s disturbing report about how the pope, while he was still a cardinal, was personally warned about a priest who had molested as many as 200 deaf boys. But church leaders chose to protect the church instead of the children. The report illuminated the kind of behavior the church was willing to excuse to avoid scandal.”

For many years the words “Catholic Church” and “haven for pederasts” have been pretty much synonymous, but the Pope himself being nailed as the architect of a child-molestor cover-up leaves only one option if the church has any hope of regaining its tarnished dignity or sanctity — Benedict has to give up the mitre and sceptre and the robes and the perks. The man is permanently damaged goods.