Shawn Pogatchnik at Huffington Post:
It often starts as a voice in the wilderness, but can swell into an entire nation’s demand for truth. From Ireland to Germany, Europe’s many victims of child abuse in the Roman Catholic church are finally breaking social taboos and confronting the clergy to face its demons.
Ireland was the first in Europe to confront the church’s worldwide custom of shielding pedophile priests from the law and public scandal. Now that legacy of suppressed childhood horror is being confronted in other parts of the Continent – nowhere more poignantly than in Germany, the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI.
The recent spread of claims into the Netherlands, Austria and Italy has analysts and churchmen wondering how deep the scandal runs, which nation will be touched next, and whether a tide of lawsuits will force European dioceses to declare bankruptcy like their American cousins.
“You have to presume that the cover-up of abuse exists everywhere, to one extent or another. A new case could appear in a new country tomorrow,” said David Quinn, director of a Christian think tank, the Iona Institute, that seeks to promote family values in an Ireland increasingly cool to Catholicism.
Richard Owen at The Times:
The Pope was drawn directly into the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal last night as news emerged of his part in a decision to send a paedophile priest for therapy. The cleric went on to reoffend and was convicted of child abuse but continues to work as a priest in Upper Bavaria.
The priest was sent from Essen to Munich for therapy in 1980 when he was accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex. The archdiocese confirmed that the Pope, who was then a cardinal, had approved a decision to accommodate the priest in a rectory while the therapy took place.
The priest, identified only as H, was subsequently convicted of sexually abusing minors after he was moved to pastoral work in nearby Grafing. In 1986 he was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence and fined DM 4,000 (£1,800 today). There have been no formal charges against him since.
The church has been accused of a cover-up after at least 170 allegations of child abuse by German Catholic priests. The scandal broke in January but the claims, which continue to emerge, span three decades. Critics say that priests were redeployed to other parishes rather than dismissed when they were found to be abusing children.
Benedict discussed the spreading scandal with the head of Germany’s Catholic bishops on Friday (March 12), hours before it drew closer than ever to the pontiff himself, as the Archdiocese of Munich, where Benedict was archbishop from 1977-1982, released a statement acknowledging it had reassigned an accused sex abuser in 1980.
Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was archbishop at the time, but Munich’s statement said that an underling, former Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, had taken “full responsibility” for the decision.
Six years after his reassignment to a parish, the priest, identified only as H., was convicted of sexually abusing minors in another jurisdiction. He is still an active priest, according Suddeutsche Zeitung, the German newspaper that broke the story.
An advocate for abuse victims in the U.S. voiced skepticism about the archdiocese’s assertion that Benedict had not approved the abuser’s reassignment to pastoral work.
“It boggles the mind,” said Barbara Blaine, president and founder of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We can’t think of a single case anywhere on the planet where a credibly accused predator priest was put back around kids and no one asked or told the top diocesan official.”
Earlier on Friday, Benedict met with Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the German bishops’ conference, for a briefing on the state of the church in Germany. While the meeting had been previously scheduled, clearly the most urgent topic in their 45-minute conversation was the growing number of sex abuse allegations.
At least 170 abuse allegations have emerged this year involving children at German Catholic schools, prompting an investigation by prosecutors.
Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture:
Here’s what we know: While the Pope was Archbishop of Munich, a priest there was accused of sexual abuse. He was pulled out of ministry and sent off for counseling. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger was involved in the decision to remove the priest from his parish assignment– got that? remove him. [Editor’s note: The preceding sentences are not accurate. Actually the facts provide an even stronger defense of the Pontiff. See the update below. ] He also approved a decision to house the priest in a rectory while he was undergoing counseling. We don’t know, at this point, whether the priest could have been sent to a residential facility, to take him out of circulation entirely. That might have been a more prudent move. We don’t know whether he was kept under close observation. But we do know that he was not involved in active ministry.
Then the vicar general of the Munich archdiocese made the decision to let the accused priest help out at a parish. That vicar general, Msgr. Gerhard Gruber, says that he made that decision on his own, without consulting the cardinal. The future Pope never knew about it, he testifies. Several years later, long after Cardinal Ratzinger had moved to a new assignment at the Vatican, the priest was again accused of sexual abuse.
A grievous mistake was made in this case; that much is clear now, and the vicar general has sorrowfully taken responsibility for the error. Could you say that the future Pontiff should have been more vigilant? Perhaps. But to suggest that he made the decision to put a pedophile back in circulation is an outrageous distortion of the facts. The AP story carries a very different headline:
Pope’s former diocese admits error over priest
That’s not so eye-catching. But the headline fits the facts.
After learning more about this case, I realize that the analysis above is not quite accurate, and the effort to implicate the Pope is even more far-fetched than I had received. The accused was not a priest of the Munich archdiocese, but a priest from the Diocese of Essen, who had been sent to a facility in Munich for counseling. So the then-Cardinal Ratzinger was not responsible for his treatment; his only connection with the case was his decision to let the priest stay in a rectory in the Munich archdiocese while he was undergoing treatment there. There is no evidence that the Pope was aware the accused priest was an accused pedophile; he was evidently informed only that the priest had been guilty of sexual improprieties, and probably concluded that he was engaged in homosexual activities with young men.
Ruth Gledhill at The Times:
What is often forgotten is how little was known of paedophilia. It was believed it could be cured, and that penitence was tantamount to recovery.
The Church, in its ignorance of the recidivism of paedophiles, too often gave them a second, third or fourth chance, moving them to different parishes, or even different countries, where they just abused again. Children’s homes made the same mistake.
The latest scandal coming out of Germany is not enough to threaten the Pope or the Church. But on top of a succession of damaging revelations it can only increase the damage being done to its moral authority on the world stage. The killer fact that could bring down the Pope or Church probably does not even exist.
The Pope is pretty unassailable. He is not elected, he is a monarch, and the centralisation that has taken place under the last two Popes has cemented that power. Pope Benedict XVI has also indicated in his three encyclicals the depths of his own integrity and intellectual rigour.
Damian Thompson at The Telegraph:
And now let us turn to the commentary by Ruth Gledhill, under another nasty headline: “Scandal still not enough to threaten the Pope”. (The Times will just have try harder, eh?) It begins:
The case of a sex abuser being given accommodation in Munich with the approval of its then archbishop, now the Pope, is reminiscent of the scandal that engulfed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor soon after his appointment to Westminster.
No, it is NOT reminiscent of that scandal, Ruth. The Pope did not put a paedophile back into circulation; in contrast, the Cardinal showed very bad judgment in the case of Michael Hill and was lucky to hang on to his position. But, by writing such bollocks, you make it reminiscent.
And then there is this gem:
The Pope is pretty unassailable. He is not elected…
Ruth, it long ago became clear to me that you do not know nearly enough about the Catholic Church to comment on it authoritatively. But surely even you have heard of something called a conclave.
Now what? Based on the past, I would expect Catholic groups to start circling the wagons. Any day, we should start hearing complaints about media coverage focusing on the scandals instead of all the good work that the Catholic Church is doing in Haiti, Chile and elsewhere.
Otherwise, the Vatican is not known for reacting swiftly to crises. We’ll see.
Inside the Vatican’s Moynihan writes:
In Rome, some fear this is just the beginning.
This fear is not idle, as the internet and world press are already full of reports that these crises may cast a shadow over the entire pontificate.
The battle occurring right now is over how history will judge Benedict’s papacy.
David Goldman at First Things:
Inventing news where there is none is not a new pastime for the press, but the intense interest that the European media has shown in the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, the elder brother of Pope Benedict XVI, goes beyond the usual range of invidious gossip. The 86-year-old Monsignor Ratzinger, the retired conductor of the Regensburg Cathedral’s famous boys’ choir, assumed his post a decade after a sexual abuse scandal surfaced. The offenders were punished and the matter was put to rest. Earlier this week reporters cornered the retired priest and demanded to know whether he would testify about the sex scandal in his choir. Ratzinger replied that he would be happy to testify if asked, but as the events preceded his tenure he had no knowledge of the facts—and headlines appeared in major German media that “the pope’s brother is ready to testify about sex abuse.”
There is nothing particularly scandalous about any of this, but it provides a pretext for the press to associate the innocuous actions of the pope’s brother with serious offenses elsewhere. The same AP report, for example, states: “The scandal sweeping church institutions in many European countries kept widening Tuesday. . . . Last week, the Regensburg Diocese said a former singer at the choir had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse in the early 1960s. And across Germany, more than 170 students have claimed they were sexually abused at several Catholic high schools. In Austria, the head of a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg admitted to sexually abusing a child decades ago and resigned. Dutch Catholic bishops announced an independent inquiry into more than 200 allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests at church schools and apologized to victims.”
The stories appear written to lead the inattentive reader to associate a boxed ear from Msgr. Ratzinger with serious offenses elsewhere.
The Vatican is claiming that Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, had no clue about any of this:
Mgr Gruber said that the Pope, who was made a cardinal in 1977, had not been not aware of his decision because there were 1,000 priests in the diocese at the time and he had left many decisions to lower-level officials. “The cardinal could not deal with everything,” he said. “The repeated employment of H in pastoral duties was a serious mistake … I deeply regret that this decision led to offences against youths. I apologise to all those who were harmed.” He did not indicate whether the convicted paedophile would be allowed to continue working in the church.
An American group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said it “boggles the mind to hear a German Catholic official claim that a credibly accused paedophile priest was reassigned to parish work without the knowledge of his boss, then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger”. Any expulsion of a priest from the Church, however, must go through the Vatican.
It boggles my mind too, as well as the fact that, according to his former victim, this convicted pedophile is still even working in the church around children! And why is he given anonymity as “H”?
(Video: ABC News’ Brian Ross trying to get an answer from then Cardinal Ratzinger about the rampant sexual abuse and misconduct – subsequently confirmed in great detail – about Vatican favorite Marcial Maciel.)
I’ve seen the basic Vatican defense elsewhere as something along the lines of “plenty of abuse happens by people who aren’t priests.” This is of course true, but it’s not about bad priests, it’s about the institutions and powerful people who cover for them and fail to protect other victims.
Joe Windish at Moderate Voice:
Suspending the priest at the center of a German church sex-abuse scandal more than 30 years after the church first heard of the child molestation allegations hardly ends the scandal that is enveloping Pope Benedict XVI
Christopher Hitchens in Slate:
Very much more serious is the role of Joseph Ratzinger, before the church decided to make him supreme leader, in obstructing justice on a global scale. After his promotion to cardinal, he was put in charge of the so-called “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (formerly known as the Inquisition). In 2001, Pope John Paul II placed this department in charge of the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic priests. In May of that year, Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every bishop. In it, he reminded them of the extreme gravity of a certain crime. But that crime was the reporting of the rape and torture. The accusations, intoned Ratzinger, were only treatable within the church’s own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated “in the most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone … is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication.” (My italics). Nobody has yet been excommunicated for the rape and torture of children, but exposing the offense could get you into serious trouble. And this is the church that warns us against moral relativism! (See, for more on this appalling document, two reports in the London Observer of April 24, 2005, by Jamie Doward.)
Not content with shielding its own priests from the law, Ratzinger’s office even wrote its own private statute of limitations. The church’s jurisdiction, claimed Ratzinger, “begins to run from the day when the minor has completed the 18th year of age” and then lasts for 10 more years. Daniel Shea, the attorney for two victims who sued Ratzinger and a church in Texas, correctly describes that latter stipulation as an obstruction of justice. “You can’t investigate a case if you never find out about it. If you can manage to keep it secret for 18 years plus 10, the priest will get away with it.”
The next item on this grisly docket will be the revival of the long-standing allegations against the Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the ultra-reactionary Legion of Christ, in which sexual assault seems to have been almost part of the liturgy. Senior ex-members of this secretive order found their complaints ignored and overridden by Ratzinger during the 1990s, if only because Father Maciel had been praised by the then-Pope John Paul II as an “efficacious guide to youth.” And now behold the harvest of this long campaign of obfuscation. The Roman Catholic Church is headed by a mediocre Bavarian bureaucrat once tasked with the concealment of the foulest iniquity, whose ineptitude in that job now shows him to us as a man personally and professionally responsible for enabling a filthy wave of crime. Ratzinger himself may be banal, but his whole career has the stench of evil—a clinging and systematic evil that is beyond the power of exorcism to dispel. What is needed is not medieval incantation but the application of justice—and speedily at that.
For example, I’m an admirer of Pope Benedict, who looks to be entering rough waters as the child sex abuse scandal turns out not to have been only an American problem, but a European one. As someone who was once deeply involved in that foul beast of a story, I’ve tried to use the emotional distance brought by time and my departure from the Catholic Church to take a more nuanced view of what brought these crimes about. I don’t actually believe that bishops intended for children to be molested. I really don’t. But all their good intentions counted for nothing; children — hundreds, perhaps thousands of them — were turned into the sexual playthings of corrupt clerics, and those in authority, who had the power and the duty to stop them, mostly did nothing. You can say all you want to about how the bishops were hornswoggled by the psychiatric profession, which gave them bad advice, and you can use that to point to the genuine tragedy of these bishops putting more trust in shrinks than in their own moral tradition and common sense. And you would have a point. Plus, it is the very definition of tragedy to cause the Church’s reputation be eviscerated by a cover up undertaken to protect the reputation of the Church.
But who can muster the wherewithal to think of the church sex abuse scandal in its tragic dimensions when few if any of the high-ranking clergy — bishops and archbishops, I mean — under whose watch this evil flourished in clerical ranks have been made to take responsibility for it in any real way? Mind you, I really do think there truly is a tragic element in this story, but to grapple with it absent meaningful accountability on the part of the malefactors is to feel as if one is expected to extend cheap grace.
UPDATE: More Dreher
UPDATE #3: George Weigel at National Review
DiA at The Economist
UPDATE #5: Ross Douthat‘s column in NYT
George Weigel at First Things
Paul Moses at Commonweal
UPDATE #6: E.D Kain at The League
E.D. Kain on Sullivan’s piece
Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal
UPDATE #8: Mary Gordon at Huffington Post
UPDATE #9: Sullivan again
UPDATE #10: Hitchens again
UPDATE #11: Joseph Bottum at First Things
Ross Douthat on Bottum
Rod Dreher on Bottum