Luga, Malta --tPope Benedict XVI alluded to the sexual abuse crisis only briefly and indirectly during his short flight from Rome to Malta this afternoon, with a reference to how the church is “wounded by our sins,” but its gospel remains “the true force that purifies and heals.”
Some years ago, after a speech he delivered in Paris drew a bit of negative reaction, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told friends he wasn’t worried. “I’m like the cellist Rostropovich,” he joked. “I never read the critics.”
That’s a policy Benedict XVI might want to preserve over the next few days, marking both his 83rd birthday today and the five-year anniversary of his papacy on Monday after a brief weekend stop in Malta. Especially in light of recent events, even the best reviews the pope’s likely to draw as these milestones roll by seem certain to be mixed.
The largest news magazine in his homeland of Germany, Der Spiegel, recently proclaimed Benedict’s regime a “Failed Papacy.” Meanwhile, an obscene phrase was spray-painted earlier this week on the house where Benedict XVI was born in Marktl am Inn, in southern Bavaria, and even in ultra-Catholic Malta, posters announcing the pope’s visit have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and references to pedophilia. In the United Kingdom, some voices are even proposing a criminal indictment against Benedict XVI when he arrives in September as the alleged mastermind of a global conspiracy to shelter predator priests. (At the bottom of this column is a link to my take on that idea.)
Rome -- The Vatican spokesman said today that he doesn't feel "under siege" because of massive media attention to the pope and the sexual abuse crisis, but given recent events, one might legitimately wonder if he was just being polite.
The question arises in the context of a briefing this morning about Pope Benedict XVI's April 17-18 visit to Malta, where Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman in question, tried gamely to focus on the trip, but the ensuing discussion swirled largely around the crisis.
tBenedict's brief stop in Malta, the 14th foreign voyage of his papacy and the eighth in Europe, will be his first public outing since the recent explosion of critical attention to his personal history in handling sex abuse cases.
For the outside world, the news flash from Pope Benedict XVI’s Easter Sunday Mass may have been that he did not allude to mounting criticism on the sex abuse crisis. Among insiders, who never expected the pope to do so on the holiest day of the year, the surprise was not so much that Benedict didn’t say anything, but that someone else did.
On the same day the Vatican published a "layman's guide" to procedures when a priest is accused of sexual abuse -- which, for the first time in a Vatican document, explicitly includes a directive to comply with civil laws requiring bishops to report abuse to the police -- the editor of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, dropped by Rome's Foreign Press Club to talk about the crisis that has engulfed Pope Benedict XVI in recent weeks.
Gian Maria Vian, a lay professor of history tapped to take over L'Osservatore Romano in October 2007, offered a robust defense of both the church and the pope. Vian generally kept his cool, though at one point he became testy in complaining that the media reads the crisis into everything said or done at the Vatican these days – a reflection, perhaps, of the intense pressure of the last few weeks.
Vian conceded that there were "great failures in governance" that made the crisis possible, but also insisted that the church now has an "exemplary" approach to the problem of sexual abuse of children, and blamed what he called a "media campaign" for tarnishing the pope's image.
The following is the text of Pope Benedict's Easter message:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I bring you the Easter proclamation in these words of the Liturgy, which echo the ancient hymn of praise sung by the Israelites after crossing the Red Sea.
It is recounted in the Book of Exodus (cf 15:19-21) that when they had crossed the sea on dry land, and saw the Egyptians submerged by the waters, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, and the other women sang and danced to this song of joy: "Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed wonderfully: horse and rider he has thrown into the sea!" Christians throughout the world repeat this canticle at the Easter Vigil, and a special prayer explains its meaning; a prayer that now, in the full light of the resurrection, we joyfully make our own: "Father, even today we see the wonders of the miracles you worked long ago. You once saved a single nation from slavery, and now you offer that salvation to all through baptism. May the peoples of the world become true sons of Abraham and prove worthy of the heritage of Israel."
Excellent canon lawyers who are also excellent theologians are rare. Jesuit Fr. Ladislas Orsy, Hungarian-born but based in the United States, is one of them. His new book, Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates, is a distillation of his mature thought, composed of revised texts of previously published presentations, lectures and articles.
From first to last it breathes hope, faith and charity, and a model of how these should be approached. But it also contains dynamite.
The future Pope Benedict XVI knew more about a sexual abuse case in Germany than previously reported, raising new questions about his involvement in the matter, according to a report in The New York Times.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope and archbishop in Munich at the time, was copied on a memo that informed him that a priest, whom he had approved sending to therapy in 1980 to overcome pedophilia, would be returned to pastoral work within days of beginning psychiatric treatment. The priest was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish, The Times reported in its March 26th issue.
The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising earlier had placed full responsibility for the decision to allow the priest to resume his duties on the cardinal’s deputy, Fr. Gerhard Gruber. But a memo, whose existence, the Times reported, was confirmed by two church officials, shows that the future pope not only led a meeting on Jan. 15, 1980, approving the transfer of the priest, but was also kept informed about the priest’s reassignment.
Editor’s note: NCR’s Tom Fox is in Munich covering the emerging clergy sex abuse story there.
German reform Catholics said Sunday the pope's pastoral letter, written to Irish Catholics in response to sexual abuse by the clergy, is merely a starting point in a long process of change, and called for the church to overhaul its stance on celibacy.
Pope Benedict XVI Saturday issued a pastoral letter to the church in Ireland, apologizing and acknowledging the failures of the church's top clerics in handling such cases.
But there were expressions of disappointment here that the letter did not make even a short reference to the German sex abuse issues, which have riveted media attention since January.
“Pope says nothing about German abuse cases,” the popular Bild daily headlined on its Web site. “Pope silent on abuse in Germany,” the weekly Der Spiegel's Web site headline read.
Editor’s note: NCR’s Tom Fox is in Munich reporting on the developing German sex abuse story.
Munich, Germany -- Few papal statements in recent memory have stirred more anticipation than the one to be released tomorrow by the Vatican, as Pope Benedict addresses the clerical sex abuse scandal in a pastoral letter aimed at the Irish faithful.
The pope reportedly signed off on the papal letter today. The Vatican has confirmed it will be released tomorrow to be read at masses throughout Ireland on Sunday.
Meanwhile, there is hope here and in other European nations the papal remarks will extend beyond Ireland.
In the past month, the focus of the clergy abuse scandal has shifted from Ireland to Germany where some 300 abuse cases have been reported and where the pope has become personally embroiled for his handling of a sex abuse case when he was archbishop of Munich in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
From the vantage of Munich, a letter addressed to the Irish faithful with scant or no mention of the deep pain felt here in the German church is likely to be disappointing.