April 24, 2005
The wrong pope, revisited
Ratzinger’s role in protecting the church against scandal became apparent four years ago. In May 2001, he sent a confidential letter to every bishop in the Catholic church reminding them of the strict penalties facing those who referred allegations of sexual abuse against priests to outside authorities.
The letter referred to a confidential Vatican document drawn up in 1962 instructing bishops on how to deal with allegations of sexual abuse between a priest and a child arising out of a confessional.
It urged them to investigate such allegations “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.”
Recall that this is no minor issue. The Catholic Church itself estimates that 4,450 priests who served between 1950 and 2002 have faced credible accusations of abuse. And research by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice suggests that in the U.S. alone, 10,667 children were abused by the clergy during that period. The Church has already paid as much as $1.3 billion to settle abuse claims, a sum that will likely soar in the years ahead.
At today’s inaugural mass, Benedict seemed eager to distance himself from some of his own more extremist views:
“My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him so that He himself will lead the church at this hour of our history.”
Rethinking the Vatican’s stance on abuse would be a good start. The Observer again:
Shortly after he was elected the spiritual head of more than one billion Catholics last week, Ratzinger approached Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago. The last time the two men talked, George raised the abuse crisis with Ratzinger and pressed him to intervene.
In perfect English, the new Pope assured George that he remembered their last conversation and would “attend” to the matter. The reign of Benedict XVI may well be judged on whether he holds true to his word.
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