Pope Benedict feels the heat

Tom Heneghan at Reuters has an excellent analysis piece on the developing central European abuse crisis.

The more the scandal of Catholic priests sexually abusing boys in Germany spreads, the more the focus turns to Rome to see how Pope Benedict reacts. The story is getting ever closer to the German-born pope, even though he has been quite outspoken denouncing these scandals and had just met all Irish bishops to discuss the scandals shaking their country. Nobody’s saying he had any role in the abuse cases now coming to light in Germany. But the fact that some took place in Regensburg while he was a prominent theologian there, that his brother Georg has admitted to smacking lazy members of his choir there and that Benedict was archbishop in Munich from 1977 to 1991 lead to the classic cover-up question: what did he know and when did he know it?

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The story has the potential to unfold over the next weeks and months in ways that can only damage Pope Benedict -- which is why his spokesman took the very unusual step Tuesday of reading out a statement on Vatican Radio. As Tom notes, the Pope's "crises to date have been linked to his statements or decisions ..... But now it’s about what he did or didn’t do in the past and how he moves to avoid further scandals in the future."

And he adds:

The big question is whether someone in the Munich archdiocese will come forward with embarrassing charges of being abused sexually by a diocesan priest during the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s time as archbishop there. Seen from today’s perspective, where the focus is now on the victim rather than the perpetrator, even not knowing about abuse cases on one’s watch could be taken as a sign of negligent leadership. Once a debate starts off like that, who knows where it will end?

Having now ruptured the noli me tangere cloud which has traditionally surrounded the pope on this issue -- Pope John Paul II always seemed like a bewildered and saddened spectator - Benedict XVI is forcing himself to get involved with local Churches. The recent summit with all 24 Irish ordinaries, and the promised Lenten letter to the Irish -- next Wednesday, St Patrick's Day, seems the obvious date for its release -- are both unprecedented. On Friday the Pope meets Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the German bishops' conference, to discuss the crisis. Whether or not these result in concrete initiatives is less important than Rome being seen to be involved and taking responsibility.

This crisis could well have other effects, not least that of shaking out issues normally considered off-limits for discussion. Two recent examples from impeccably orthodox sources: 

1. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and editor of the Catechism, has said that the causes of the abuse crisis must be examined, and that these include "priestly formation and the understanding of celibacy in personal development" (Le Monde has the story here; the original article in German is here).

2. A front-page piece in the Vatican daily L' Osservatore Romano, no less, argues that a greater presence of women in high-level decision-making bodies in the Church would have helped to lift the "veil of masculine secrecy" over clerical sex abuse cases.

Austen Ivereigh

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Gabriel McAuliffe
8 years 7 months ago
Joseph Ratzinger was archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1981, not 1991.

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