National Catholic Reporter

The Independent News Source

Accountability

Benedict's record on abuse: all talk and no action

 | 

Commentary

As disclosures of carefully concealed clergy sex crimes surface by the hundreds across Europe, even in Pope Benedict's native Germany, defenders of the pontiff are working overtime.

"As pope, he has been unusually and laudably aggressive in dealing with abusers," says David Gibson, author of a Benedict biography.

"[On abuse] Pope Benedict XVI has made it clear that no one, however well-connected, gets a free pass," writes John Allen of National Catholic Reporter.

Well, let's look clearly at Benedict's track record, as pope, on clergy sex crimes and cover ups. He has done three things.

Once, after substantially watering down an already vague and weak proposal, he belatedly and begrudgingly approved the U.S. bishops' 2002 child sex abuse policy.

Twice, in carefully choreographed circumstances, he sat in the same room with and talked with a few hand-picked victims.

And twice, he "disciplined" credibly accused child molesting clerics (one of whom, after multiple allegations and years of delay, was "invited" to live a life of prayer while the Vatican made only the most oblique reference to his actual crimes).

Ratzinger's Responsibility

 | 

After Archbishop Robert Zollitsch's recent papal audience, he spoke of Pope Benedict's "great shock" and "profound agitation" over the many cases of abuse which are coming to light. Zollitsch, archbishop of Freiburg, Germany, and the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, asked pardon of the victims and spoke again about the measures that have already been taken or will soon be taken. But neither he nor the pope have addressed the real question that can no longer be put aside.

According to the latest Emnid-poll, only 10 percent of those interviewed in Germany believe that the church is doing enough in dealing with this scandal; on the contrary, 86 percent charge the church's leadership with insufficient willingness to come to grips with the problem. The bishops' denial that there is any connection between the celibacy rule and the abuse problem can only confirm their criticism.

Keep sex abuse sins confidential, confessors urged

 | 

VATICAN CITY -- A priest who confesses sexual abuse in the sacrament of penance should be absolved and should generally not be encouraged by the confessor to disclose his acts publicly or to his superiors, a Vatican official said.

Likewise, the confessor should not make the contents of such a confession public, said Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that handles issues related to the sacrament of penance.

Will Ratzinger's past trump Benedict's present?

 | 

Analysis

Gino Burresi may sound like the name of a shortstop from the '50s, but among Vatican insiders, it marks a watershed in the sexual abuse crisis. For those with eyes to see, the fall from grace of Burresi, a charismatic Italian priest and founder of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, shortly after the election of Pope Benedict XVI, was taken as a signal that the days of lethargy and cover-up were over.

Burresi, 73 at the time, was barred from public ministry in May 2005, just one month after the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the church's top job. While the decree cited abuses of confession and spiritual direction, Vatican sources were clear that accusations of sexual abuse involving Burresi and seminarians, dating to the 1970s and '80s, were a principal motive for the action against him.

Munich archdiocese official resigns

 | 

MUNICH, Germany -- An official of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising responsible for a priest who has become the focus of the German sexual abuse scandal has resigned and the priest has been suspended from active ministry by the archdiocese.

Father Joseph Obermeier, head of pastoral care for the archdiocese, resigned March 15 at the request of Archbishop Reinhard Marx, according to an archdiocesan statement.

Papal silence on crisis troubles German Catholics

 | 

BERLIN -- German Catholics have called on Pope Benedict XVI to speak out about a stream of sex abuse cases that have shocked the country and plunged the church into its biggest crisis in over six decades.

Pope Benedict has become personally embroiled in the affair, after it emerged that while he was archbishop of Munich and Freising in southern Germany in 1980, a priest accused of sexual abuse in another diocese had been transferred to the area, sent for therapy, and then placed in a parish where he went on to commit other acts of abuse.

The vicar general of the archdiocese from that era has assumed “full responsibility” for the decision, saying there were more than 1,000 priests in Munich at the time and that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was not informed.

Those close to the pope say that dredging up the case now is the work of ‘vicious elements’ who have long wanted to find a connection between the pontiff and the sex abuse crisis. For example, Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who heads the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome, called attempts to “draw in” Benedict XVI to the crisis a “sign of violence and barbarity”.

CDF official details response to sex abuse

 | 

VATICAN CITY -- In an unusual interview on March 13, a key Vatican official described in detail the steps taken by the Vatican to confront priestly sex abuse since 2001, the year the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under then-Cardinal Ratzinger, laid out strict new norms for processing such cases.

The official, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, a doctrinal congregation official from Malta who deals directly with cases of priests accused of abuse of minors, told the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire that the allegation that Pope Benedict had covered up sex abuse crimes was "false and calumnious."

Global scope of abuse crisis makes case for reform

 | 

[This analysis appears in the latest print issue of NCR, which went to press March 11.]

The clergy sex abuse crisis, once dismissed by some church officials as a product of U.S. anti-Catholicism and media hostile to the church, has begun sweeping through Europe, with damning government reports in Ireland and widespread allegations in recent weeks of abuse of youngsters in Germany and the Netherlands.

The growing international scope of the scandal of sex abuse and cover-up has prompted two U.S. experts, who have tracked the crisis for decades in the United States and beyond, to speculate that the evidence might soon become compelling enough to convince some in the hierarchy that the church’s system of governance needs a fundamental overhaul.

Dutch report on clergy abuse expected in April

WARSAW, Poland -- An independent church inquiry into alleged sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the Netherlands will submit its report by late April, according to a spokesman for the Dutch bishops.

"Although we don't yet know how the investigations will be carried out, and which organizations will be asked to help, we know the inquiry will be independent and vigorous," said Bert Elbertse, communications director for the Dutch bishops' conference.

Abuse cases show need for greater women's role

 | 

VATICAN CITY -- A greater presence of women in decision-making roles in the church might have helped remove the "veil of masculine secrecy" that covered priestly sex abuse cases, a front-page commentary in the Vatican newspaper said.

The article said that despite calls by popes and others for welcoming women into equal, though diverse, roles in the church, women have generally been kept out of positions of responsibility.

Pages

Feature-flag_GSR_start-reading.jpg

NCR Email Alerts

 

In This Issue

July 4-17, 2014

07-04-2014.jpg

Not all of our content is online. Subscribe to receive all the news and features you won't find anywhere else.