by Alastair Wanklyn

Its critics accuse it of responding too slowly. But the Vatican has many defenders; some cardinals this Easter rallied to defend Pope Benedict.

One belittled the critics, dismissing debate about decades-old alleged beatings and molestations "petty gossip".

Another official obliquely compared the verbal assault to historic violence against Jews. He later apologized.

The Vatican is on the defensive, in part because it cannot move fast. It took almost 360 years to pardon mathematician Galileo for theories once considered heretical.

Stability borne of two thousand years of heritage is what many Catholics admire. They value its rich teachings.

But critics say even a body with a lumbering weight should break into a sprint every now and then.

It would be simple, they insist, to state a diagnosis, publish what the Church knew, and suggest a remedy.

Instead, publicly, the Vatican is near-silent, leaving action to others.

Bishops in Germany last week opened an abuse phone hotline; one in Switzerland urged victims to consider filing criminal complaints; and the clergy in Denmark promised to review why they chose not to involve police earlier.

These are piecemeal moves which fall short of what the Church ultimately undertook in America.

Many predict the church will change.

Predictions are risky, but some say in an age of transparency the Vatican will likely get better at explaining itself.

It might also stop blaming rogue elements and perhaps examine systematic causes, like priestly celibacy.

And it might lower the standing that ordainment brings, which itself, critics say, encourages the Church to cover up for wrongdoers.

To each of these, of course, there are valid counter-arguments. And it is even harder to predict how long the debate might take.