National Catholic Reporter

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Accountability

Credibility gap: Pope needs to answer questions

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The Holy Father needs to directly answer questions, in a credible forum, about his role -- as archbishop of Munich (1977-82), as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1982-2005), and as pope (2005-present) -- in the mismanagement of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

We urge this not primarily as journalists seeking a story, but as Catholics who appreciate that extraordinary circumstances require an extraordinary response. Nothing less than a full, personal and public accounting will begin to address the crisis that is engulfing the worldwide church. It is that serious.

To date, as revelations about administrative actions resulting in the shifting of clergy abusers from parish to parish emerge throughout Europe, Pope Benedict XVI's personal response has been limited to a letter to the Irish church. Such epistles are customary and necessary, but insufficient.

Vatican defends action in Wis. abuser case

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VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican defended a decision not to laicize a Wisconsin priest who sexually abused deaf children, despite the recommendation of his bishop that he be removed from the priesthood.

In a statement responding to a report in the New York Times, the Vatican said that by the time it learned of the case in the late 1990s, the priest was elderly and in poor health.

European bishops pledge new abuse initiatives

OXFORD, England -- Catholic bishops from the Pope Benedict XVI's native Bavaria have pledged to tighten procedures for handling abuse claims against local clergy.

"Our uppermost priority must be to seek the truth and create an open atmosphere which encourages victims to state what was done to them," bishops from the Munich and Freising and Bamberg archdioceses said in a statement after a mid-March meeting.

Pope will meet Irish victims of sex abuse

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VATICAN CITY -- In his letter to Irish Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI promised to meet victims of clerical sexual abuse, but the Vatican said it would not turn such a meeting into a media event.

Like similar meetings the pope has had with victims in the United States and in Australia, a potential meeting with Irish victims would occur quietly and in an atmosphere of prayer without a public announcement ahead of time, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

"For the pope, these are not media events. They are human and spiritual encounters. While they are significant, you should not expect them to be announced and propagandized," Father Lombardi told reporters March 20 during a briefing on the pope's letter.

The spokesman also announced that the Vatican had opened on its Web site a new page -- http://www.vatican.va/resources/index_en.htm# -- with the text of the pope's letter, past papal speeches touching on sexual abuse and related documents.

Directly addressing victims in his letter, Pope Benedict wrote, "I humbly ask you to consider what I have said."

Pope to sex abuse victims: 'I am truly sorry'

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In his most comprehensive statement yet on the sexual abuse crisis, Pope Benedict XVI has apologized to victims, called on abuser priests to tell the truth, and charged bishops to cooperate with civil authorities.

The pope also announced plans for a Vatican-sponsored investigation of Irish dioceses, seminaries and religious orders, in response to the massive national scandal that has gripped that once ultra-Catholic nation since release of a government-sponsored inquiry into sex abuse in church-sponsored institutions in the Dublin archdiocese late last year.

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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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.

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