As accusations increase and recognition of the priest abuse-scandal within the Church continues to grow, a number of recent reports have taken aim at the temporal head of the Church, Pope Benedict XVI. German news media have alleged that the future pope, Joseph Ratzinger, while Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, oversaw the transfer and reassignment of a priest accused of an act of sexual misconduct. This priest, admitted to the Diocese of Munich for therapy, was reassigned to parochial work during Ratzinger’s time as Archbishop. Several years after Ratzinger left Munich to become head of the Congregation for the Holy Faith, this priest was convicted of sexually molesting other young people in a different parish.
The news that this affair took place in the former archdiocese of the Pope has triggered attacks on his credibility and calls for his resignation. Church leaders have responded that Ratzinger was not involved in the reassignment, and that he entrusted it to his subordinates.
A number of factors corroborate the response of Church officials. Ratzinger was made a cardinal in 1977, the same year as his appointment to the Archdiocese of Munich. He voted in the two papal conclaves of 1978, participating in the elections of John Paul I and John Paul II. In addition, he had various duties in consultation with Rome, culminating in his appointment to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1982. These were the Pope’s obligations in addition to governing the Munich archdiocese, which at the time oversaw roughly 1,000 priests. The Pope’s many responsibiliiteslend credibility to the Church’s official response..
The attacks continue, despite the Pope’s reputation as a stalwart advocate of investigation into such scandals since his days as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Ratzinger played a strong role in the movement for the 2001 Motu Proprio known as “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela,” which instructed bishops to report all credible abuse cases to the Conregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and enabled the Congregation to take swift and decisive action.
As the head of that Congregation, Cardinal Ratzinger took direct and aggressive action toward rooting out the sources of scandal. Once the power to deal with cases of scandal was streamlined and given to the Congregation, Ratzinger rejected the standard skeptical attitude and instead acted quickly and forcefully. According to information from the National Catholic Reporter, Ratzinger authorized the removal of priests in “a substantial majority” of the 500 plus cases which came before his office. A number of other individuals, including Cardinal Schonborn,Monsignor Charles Scicluna, and Jason Berry, author of Vows of Silence, have also testified to Ratzinger’s determination to remove the sources of scandal.
This determination to purify the Church continued once Ratzinger became pope. One example of this determination is evident in the case of Fr. Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was accused of abuse in 1998. Fr. Maciel had been protected during the time of John Paul II; however, the year after Benedict was elected, Fr. Maciel was directed to take up “a reserved life of prayer and penance,” and effectively compelled to retire.
It tragic that Benedict, who as both Cardinal and Pope has worked todeal swiftly and strongly with the scandals, should now be condemned for an oversight on the part of his subordinate diocesan clerics that occurred long before the gravity of the sex scandals was fully recognized. The recent stories surrounding Benedict show that he is not omniscient rather than that he is guilty of failure to protect victims or a desire to hide the truth.
-EJ Sanchez is the coolest (and only) Spaniard in all of Wisconsin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org