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Scott P. Richert

Clerical Sexual Abuse: Is Pope Benedict XVI Taking the Fall?

By May 6, 2010

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In "Clerical Sexual Abuse: The Case of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado," I pointed out that, for decades, the founder of the Legion of Christ had lived (in the recent words of the Holy See Press Office) "a life devoid of scruple and of genuine religious sentiment" while engaged in "very serious and objectively immoral behaviour." And yet attempts by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, to pursue the case of Father Maciel were stymied by high-ranking Vatican officials who were close to Pope John Paul II.

We'll probably never know the reason why, but it seems likely that John Paul's fondness for Father Maciel may have had something to do with it. Does this mean that the previous pope knew about, let alone fully understood, all of the allegations against Father Maciel? Not necessarily. For much of the last decade of his life, John Paul suffered from a variety of ailments that affected both his physical and his mental condition, including Parkinson's disease and physical weakness stemming from Mehmet Ali Agca's attempted assassination. Some of the same Vatican officials who placed roadblocks in Cardinal Ratzinger's way may well have kept John Paul in the dark.

That said, any close observer of the media firestorm of the past few months has to have asked himself the question: Is Pope Benedict XVI taking the fall for the actions of others under the reign of Pope John Paul II?

Both John Allen, the best Vatican reporter in the English-speaking world (despite working for the National Catholic Reporter, the worst Catholic newspaper in the United States), and Damian Thompson, the editor-in-chief of the London-based Catholic Herald, suggest that the answer may be yes. Thompson notes something that I have repeatedly discussed:

Long before he was Pope, Joseph Ratzinger fought to tighten the Catholic Church’s procedures for dealing with abuse allegations.

And yet not only has the secular media not given him credit for doing so; the Vatican itself has been reluctant to discuss this indisputable fact. Even when the unequivocal condemnation of Father Maciel was released on Saturday, no mention was made of the fact that Cardinal Ratzinger attempted more than once to pursue the case of Father Maciel, and that Father Maciel's eventual removal from the ministry and exile to a monastery occurred only because of the persistence of the current pontiff.

This reluctance to provide clear evidence that would counter many of the recent media attacks on the Holy Father is puzzling, unless, as Thompson writes,

Could it have been because telling the truth about Benedict would tarnish the reputation of Pope John Paul II?

John Allen has the details in his discussion of a letter, written by Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos in 2001, commending a French bishop for refusing to report to the civil authorities allegations of sexual abuse against one of his priests. When the letter (which, as Thompson points out, "was first published years ago") was recently resurrected by the media, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos defended himself by claiming that he had showed the letter, not to Cardinal Ratzinger, but to Pope John Paul II.

And that, as Allen writes, brought an immediate response from the Vatican:

In a rare case of “rapid response,” the official Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, had a statement out to reporters almost immediately after stories broke in France.

The letter, Lombardi’s statement said, offers “another confirmation of how timely was the unification of the treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

In effect, that was a polite way of saying that Castrillon was part of the problem against which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, had to struggle in streamlining Vatican procedures for dealing with sex abuse cases.

Indeed, shortly after Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos sent the letter, Pope John Paul II finally acceded to Cardinal Ratzinger's request to transfer control over clerical sex-abuse cases to Cardinal Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Again, we're faced with the question: Why hasn't the Vatican countered the media attacks with a full accounting of Cardinal Ratzinger's actions—an accounting which, as those of us who have followed these stories for a decade or more know, would show that no one in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has worked harder to bring an end to the scourge of clerical sexual abuse?

John Allen may have "At least part of the answer":

because to make Ratzinger look good, they’d have to make others look bad – including, of course, Castrillon, as well as other top Vatican officials. Lurking behind that concern is a deeper one, which is that to salvage the reputation of Benedict XVI it might be necessary to tarnish that of Pope John Paul II.

While Joseph Ratzinger and Karol Wojtyla were very dear friends, it is no secret that the two men disagreed on a number of issues, including points of Church governance and the liturgy. Yet Pope Benedict clearly admires his predecessor, whom Thompson right describes as "a man of titanic courage, personal holiness and high moral standards," and he has no desire to exonerate himself by tarnishing, even indirectly, the memory of Pope John Paul II.

That determination is commendable—indeed, we might even say it is Christ-like. But it's not an action that the secular media could comprehend—even if they wanted to.

More Coverage of Clerical Sexual Abuse on the About.com Catholicism GuideSite:

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May 6, 2010 at 4:51 pm
(1) Guy Stair Sainty says:

It is tempting to suggest that there are clear lines to be drawn between different groups in the Curia, with some being responsible for not taking action and others wanting to do so. What is forgotten is the huge burden of work on those who work in the Vatican and that the government of the Holy See bears no relationship to that of typical state governments. Although the heads of Congregations and Pontifical councils may be considered similar in some fashion to national government ministers, in reality they function very differently. The Pope does not hold “cabinet meetings” where the heads of Congregations regularly meet; these departments operate independently from each other and often entirely unaware of the details of the policy actions of other parts of the curia. Furthermore, it was only relatively recently that the Vatican’s telephone system was connected to that of Italy – international telephone calls used to have to be booked 2 days in advance and there were no faxes. Communication was by mail and discovery in US law cases has shown that there were letters written to Rome that never got there. Meanwhile the bishops round the world were keen to affirm the authority they were given under canon law, which meant that they resisted intervention from Rome. The concept, presented in the media, that the Pope sits at the top of a pyramid with each level reporting obediently to the top has never existed in the Church at any time in its history.

Thus to suggest that His Holiness was on one side and, for example (on the issue of discipline of the clergy) Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos on another is a complete misinterpretation of reality. On the issue of the liturgy, for example, the then Cardinal Ratzinger and Castrillon Hoyos were in complete agreement, as they were on many other points of discipline. Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, however, had spent more time as a diocesan bishops than Cardinal Ratzinger and in a part of the world where the Church was under daily threat of violence and where the judicial authorities were corrupt and incompetent – he did not have an historic experience of trust in the legal process. Anyone with experience of the Italian judicial processes may also have been sceptical that the criminal process was going to be the right way to deal with these priests. This, of course, seems quite extraordinary in the US. John Paul II lived through the German occupation of his country and 45 years of communism when the police, representing the state, were unremitting enemies of the Church; to expose a priest to the law, even one who had committed the crime of assaulting a child, would have been perceived as a betrayal. It was also contrary to a regulation by John Paul II to laicise any priest under 40, as that removed him from Church discipline. One might ask why the scandal has broken now, long after most of these offences were committed and when vetting and disciplinary processes now exist which should vastly reduce the chances of a paedophile priest being ordained, let alone getting a chance to commit these crimes. The answer is a simple one; there are many who bitterly resent the present Pontiff for clearly speaking out on issues that confront the secularist movement and there are some within the Church, in leadership positions, who want to see Pontifical authority diminished and the power of the Bishops correspondingly enhanced.

May 8, 2010 at 2:17 am
(2) John Seiler says:

Whatever his faults, Pope John Paul II was a commanding presence as man and priest. And he deserves the major credit for winding down the Cold War without getting us all killed. People forget how tense the Cold War was in 1978, when he was elected Pope, then went to Poland in 1979 and stood up for human dignity and liberty, cracking communism wide open. A nuclear war would have killed hundreds of millions. If you’re alive today, thank him, and say a prayer for him.

May 8, 2010 at 1:32 pm
(3) Mary says:

Mr. Scott Richert, your place in Heaven is assured. You have handled the unfolding vitroil storm whipped up by Anti-Christs and Catholic Haters in the most commendable way. Any devout Catholic knows during the 2 thousand years of our Church lifespan, from time to time, as necessary, God uses His anointed Apostles and consecrated Saints to accomplish His Will at the approprite time . Pope John Paul II carried out Our Father’s wishes with distinction and obeyed God’s will to the letter. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he ensured God’s Will was done. He is now rejoicing in Heaven. Pope Benedict XVI”s rows ordained for him to work on in the Christw’s Vineyard, are now becoming quite clear. Let no one doubt he will not fulfil Our Father’s Will the same way previous Saints have successfully, sometimes almost miraculoursly, served the Bride of Christ stricly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Both these great Apostles, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, were anointed during these very difficult times, that is the close the the starting of a New Millenium, to renew and rejuvenate the Catholic Church. Our Church will march on and all Her enemies will fall by the wayside, just as Her Head stated when he appointed Peter the Head of His Church, until the end of time.

May 9, 2010 at 11:01 am
(4) Linus Nnadi says:

Dear Scott,

Thanks for your commendable approach to this issue.

All i wish to tell the public is that Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI are two different men with different priorities for the running of the church’s affairs and one can’t be criticized because of his own way of running the church besides they are all doing it for the church’s progress and unity. THanks……….

May 10, 2010 at 8:03 pm
(5) Patrick says:

So if the previous Bishop of Rome protected this animal-like Maciel, who acts like pre-Reformation clergy, doesn’t that speak volumes about the bleary-eyed cultists who think the doddering old superannuated fools with mitres are infallible?

And if the current Bishop of Rome didn’t have the stones to speak out when he could have done some good (when Maciel was alive), doesn’t that speak volumes?

No wonder the world is so screwed up. There are millions who actually believe these two creeps are or were infallible.

May 11, 2010 at 1:59 am
(6) John Seiler says:

It’s also worth pointing out that the jihad against Pope Benedict is being led by The New York Times. One of the reason is that Pope Benedict, like his predecessor John Paul II, has strongly opposed the Bush-Obama unjust wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and, now, Pakistan — but the Times has strongly supported them. So, it has to go after the Popes.

The Times is not a “liberal” newspaper, as conservatives sometimes charge, but the top propaganda sheet of the regime — Democrat and Republican — that runs Washington. The regime wants the wars, so the Times supports them.

Jeff Huber, a retired Naval officer, says of the Times, “The New York Times, the ‘Gray Lady’ that abetted the efforts of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to dupe America into supporting the Iraq invasion, is still the willing echo chambermaid of the warmongery.”

Now, the Times is pushing more war with Pakistan: “The New York Times continues to set unprecedented sub-standards in printing third-hand innuendo and framing it as cold fact. Imagine what this country would be like if the NYT took its ‘newspaper of record’ buzz-label seriously and not as license to get away with journalistic murder, literal murder of both our troops and of civilians in the countries they occupy.”

Read the rest here: http://original.antiwar.com/huber/2010/05/10/the-gray-lady-and-officials-anonymous/

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