Is This a Joke? Media Attacks Benedict for … Something?

I’m not usually a fan of the way Catholics stories get reported on the media, but this one has been shocking. I’m going to go more in-depth on the sex abuse scandal as a whole soon, but I just have to say this: the press has been desperately manufacturing a story to suggest that Pope Benedict is somehow personally responsible for the sex abuse scandals. So far, they haven’t found anything worthwhile, but it hasn’t stopped them from some insane allegations.

The Cases
Here are the three almost-stories which the press has tried to attack the Vatican with:

  1. The Regensburger Domspatzen Boys’ Choir: There has been one sex abuse allegation arising from the German boy’s choir that Pope Benedict’s brother leads (“a school assistant who later became a priest”). Mind you, there’s been no suggestion that the pope’s brother (much less the pope himself) was aware of this abuse, if it occurred, much less was personally responsible: in fact, he’s denied knowledge, while admitting that he sometimes hit disobedient boys. Given that the events in question were from decades ago, this revelation isn’t exactly earth-shattering, much less international news. And I suppose it should go without saying that this isn’t connected to the pope himself in any way.
  2. The Hullermann Case: While Pope Benedict was Archbishop Ratzinger of Munich, a priest named Fr. Hullermann was transferred into his diocese for treatment. Ratzinger’s involvement extended to allowing him to stay at a Munich rectory. Later, his vicar general, Msgr. Gerhard Gruber, put him back into parish work. Gruber didn’t tell Ratzinger about this decision in person, and has taken total responsibility. However, Ratzinger was formally CC’d on the decision to move the priest. That doesn’t mean that Ratzinger saw it personally: “An official of the Munich archdiocese pointed out to the Times that the memo was a routine one, written for the files, and ‘unlikely to have landed on the archbishop’s desk.’ As many as 1,000 such memos are written every year with an official copy to the archbishop, another Church spokesman said.” Munich’s Archdiocesan spokesman said, “An archbishop doesn’t read all the administrative acts. He just can’t. That’s why he has a vicar general. Gruber had 100 percent administrative control.”
  3. The Murphy Case: Here, the pope actually was (sort of) involved, which means this is the closest they’ve gotten to a story yet. As Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation of Doctrine and Faith, the pope was mildly involved in 1996 in the handling of now-disgraced Archbishop Weakland’s attempt to defrock notorious sexual predator Fr. Murphy, whose victims were deaf boys he was supposed to instruct. There’s only one catch: Murphy’s abuse all occurred between the 1950s and 1970s. By the time the Vatican was even notified of the situation, it had been twenty years since the last molestation, Fr. Murphy had repented, and was now an elderly disgraced priest, dying in solitude. He posed literally no threat to anyone, and expressed remorse at his previous (heinous) actions. So Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, ordered Murphy’s canonical trial stopped. It also didn’t help that the canonical statute of limitations had likely expired, because the Archdiocese of Milwaukee waited 40 years to notify the Vatican. So the Church did nothing formally, other than instruct that Murphy be kept out of public ministry, and to devote his remaining time to prayer and penance. He died four months later – with, of course, no further victims. From what the files currently show, it was Secretary of State Bertone who was calling the shots here, but Ratzinger was almost certainly “in the know.” [Edit: Fr. Raymond de Souza explains what actually happened, complete with timeline, here – in short, this was an enormous failing on Abp. Weakland’s part which he’s now trying to blame on the pope].

So we have case #1, where the pope almost certainly had no idea of the situation; case #2, Hullermann, where apparently at worst, Ratzinger didn’t know but should have made extra efforts to find out; and case #3, Murphy, where the decision was quite frankly the right one. Defrocking a penitent, already-disgraced dying man is just cruelty. It doesn’t help any of the victims. It’s just an obscene attempt at human vengence. I’m ashamed that it took the Archdiocese of Milwaukee 40 years to address this issue (a full twenty years after the point it would have protected a single child), but I’m pleased that the Vatican was merciful here.

It’s worth mentioning, as John Allen does, that from about 2001 onwards, but particularly since becoming Pope, Benedict has done more to combat sex abuse in the Church than anybody.

The Media Frenzy
I don’t have the stomach to handle all of the biased media accounts, but here’s a taste:

  • Times (London) goes after the family: the caption on the photo of the pope’s brother reads “Georg Ratzinger has admitted hearing of cases of ill-treatment during his time as director of the Regensburg choir.” Sounds like sex abuse, the article’s mostly about sex abuse, and yet the caption’s intentionally vague “ill-treatment” isn’t about sex abuse at all. In fact, the article notes that the brother denies any knowledge of pedophilia (and to my knowledge, no one is disagreeing … just insinuating).
  • Times covers Hullerman: “NOT long after a portly, jovial priest in the German industrial city of Essen was accused of sexually abusing three boys in 1979, he was offered a new home in Munich by Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.” Offered a new home in Munich. Not “was housed at a rectory in Munich was undergoing mandatory treatment.” It’s as if Ratzinger went out and bought Hullerman a house so he’d infest his diocese. The remainder of the article
  • Times strikes again on Hullerman: The headline actually claims “Pope Benedict XVI ‘knew child abuser allowed back to work.'” Try and find anywhere in the article where they prove that claim.
  • The New York Times’ coverage of Murphy: the headline reads “Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys.” Technically, this is true. But it’s also pretty inflammatory given that if it’s true that the statute of limitations was up, there weren’t grounds to defrock him. Like saying “US court declines to punish child abuser” when in fact, the court couldn’t.
  • AP addressed both cases under the headline “Glance at church abuse cases handled by pope.” Yet neither case was “handled” by the pope in any reasonable sense of that term. Msgr. Gruber and Cardinal Bertone made the controversial decisions in these cases, not Pope Benedict. For a third case that they mention, they note as an aside, “As pope, Benedict is not directly involved in any stage of this case.” So he’s not exactly “handling” that case, either.
  • Bonnie Erbe of US News & World Report began her post on the subject as follows: “The pope’s involvement in and even sanctioning of the priest pedophilia scandal continues to grow…” Think about that. A “reporter” is claiming that pope wasn’t just involved with the scandal, but that he sanctioned it. He wanted the abuse to happen. And what’s her evidence? The first two news reports I mentioned. It’s a negative cycle: inaccurate news leading to even less accurate opinion.

None of the cases actually make the pope look very bad at all, and what’s worse, if the media succeeds in undermining Benedict’s papacy in the eyes of the public, they’ll only succeed in wrecking one of the most powerful voices for those abused by predatory priests. It was Benedict, after all, who made a point to meet with sex abuse victims in the US during his visit to our country, a literally unprecedented move. And it’s been Benedict who loudly decried the “filth” responsible for the abuse scandal. Perhaps most importantly, it’s been Benedict who instituted a zero-tolerance policy for sex abuse to prevent repeat molesters. If you’re looking for action, he’s your man. If you’re looking for finger-pointing and hand-wringing, look to virtually all of his episcopal critics.

A Funny Sidenote
As you can probably see, the media leaves its fact-checking at the door where Church scandal is involved. And sometimes, this turns out hilariously. In one of the most extreme attacks, ABC News suggests that Benedict should consider resigning as pope. Consider: he hasn’t been shown to have done a single thing wrong, none of this was done while he was pope, he’s implemented much-needed reforms to address the situation … and the media wants him to resign in shame. In the article, the “reporters” recount the sex abuse crisis and say “Those would be devastating scenarios for most world leaders, but not for the pope.” Of course they’re devestating for the pope! What they really mean is, “It turns out that the pope can’t be fired!” And they’re pretty shocked. But as this next quote goes to show, they’re also incredibly ignorant of Catholicism. Here goes:

“He is really accountable to no one, and that is the history,” said former priest Richard Sipe, author of the 1990 book, “A Secret World” about the priesthood. “There have been a pope or two who have resigned, several hundred have been murdered, but it’s a very stable organization from the top down. What other monarchy do you know that’s lasted for 2,000 years?”

I had to re-read that quote a couple times to make sure I wasn’t confused, and now it makes me laugh. “Several hundred” popes have been murdered? Benedict’s only the 265th pope! If several hundred of his predecessors were murdered, that would make murder the cause of death for virtually every pope in history. It’s like saying “several dozen” presidents have been murdered. As for murders… what the heck is he talking about? The closest thing I can think of is martyrdom, which several (not several hundred) sufferred. But no pope (barring weird John Paul I conspiracy theories) has ever been murdered by someone in the Church — which is what this sort of quote seems to suggest (forced retirement?).

Almost makes me want to buy his book.


  1. Thanks for bringing this subject up in your blog. I have been reading news accounts from many sources and concur with your assessment of the situation. The only part of the “scandle” that I don’t have enough information on is the directive the Cardinal Ratzinger wrote for the Church about keeping sexual abuse cases “confidential”. Do you know anything about this directive, or where I can read it? Can “confidential” translate into “enabling” this to continue?
    Without the context of this directive it seems the media could at least imply this (which they have).

  2. You wrote: “Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys.” Technically, this is true. But it’s also pretty inflammatory given that if it’s true that the statute of limitations was up, there weren’t grounds to defrock him. Like saying “US court declines to punish child abuser” when in fact, the court couldn’t.”

    Are you sure their is a statute of limitations to defrock a priest? According to letters sent to the Vatican, this is something the Archbishop office in Milwaukee was pursuing, but the Vatican put a stop to it (or suggested to put a stop to it).

    We have thousand of victims worldwide, and you really are going to make us believe that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict didn’t know anything about it? We are the community the church is supposed to serve. Those abused kids were our kids!

    Fr de Souza mentioned in his response that the Archbishop Bertone just “suggested” to put a stop to the penal process against Fr Murphy. A suggestion from the Vatican sounds like a directive to me.

    It really doesn’t matter the questionable past of Archbishop Weakland. You are missing the point. Fr Murphy abused kids, and this response from the Vatican follows the Church’s past attitude towards the abusers (“it wasn’t that bad, he is old, there has been no new accusations, etc”).

    How am I suppose to trust this institution? You can convince yourself all you want about the lack of evidence towards the Pope, but the bottom line is the Vatican failed to protect our kids for decades, and the Pope is the head of the church. If the church fails, he does too. And that applies to both John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

  3. Jorge –

    See and

    Look at all the sexual abuse scandals involving children that have happened (and have been covered up) in America’s public school system. The article I linked is titled, “Sex Abuse by Teachers Said Worse Than Catholic Church.”

    Sexual abuse of children has been a problem in some Orthodox Jew communities.

    It’s not a Catholic Church problem; it’s a human nature problem. The CC just gets more press because we’re the denomination that people love to hate (an ongoing problem that Jesus foresaw — hence why he said “Blessed are you who are persecuted…”)

  4. Mr. Rodriguez,

    Thank you for your comment. As a member of a school board, the protection of children is obviously an issue close to your heart. As a Christian and a Catholic priest, the issue is close to my heart as well.

    Your outrage at the abuse of children is a sentiment I share. However, I cannot agree with all of the conclusions you make in your post.

    First, you express justifiable outrage at the abuse of children. However, you simply infer that the pope at the time the abuse occurred somehow enabled the abuse. That’s quite a statement to make without noting any evidence.

    Second, you state: “How am I suppose to trust this institution? You can convince yourself all you want about the lack of evidence towards the Pope, but the bottom line is the Vatican failed to protect our kids for decades, and the Pope is the head of the church. If the church fails, he does too.” So you’re claiming that since members of the Church sinned, that the pope is personally responsible. Why stop at the desk of the pope? If a Christian sins, why not place the blame at the feet of Jesus himself? If your problem is with the Church as an institution, remember that it is a divine institution. I think you need to rephrase your question. Instead of asking, “How could the Pope allow abuse to occur?”, why don’t you ask, “How could God allow abuse to occur?” Now that is just as valid a question, isn’t it? Remember, the Pope isn’t the head of the Catholic Church. Jesus is the head (cf. Ephesians 5:23).

    I’m not saying that the policies and procedures of the Catholic Church in regards to preventing, investigating, and disciplining abuse cases should not be reviewed. They should and they have been. It would actually be difficult to find an institution that has done more work to protect children from abuse. One such example in the United States is the Virtus Program that includes mandatory training, continuing education, and resources (see ). I’m not aware of a school district in the US that has the same level of prevention and eduction in the area.

    Third, your inference that the Pope has personally enabled the abuse of children has led you to seemingly denounce the Catholic Church as the church founded by Jesus Christ. Even if you are correct, you must then prove how the sins of a Pope prevent the Catholic Church from being the church Jesus founded. That will be difficult. Remember, the night that Jesus shared his final meal with his 12 apostles, the first Pope denied him 3 times. However, that didn’t prevent Jesus from founding the Church or from entrusting the Pope with her spiritual care. The Risen Christ still told the sinful Peter to feed his sheep.

  5. Jorge,

    Canon law statute of limitations is called “praescriptio” (prescription). For all serious crimes except pedophilia, it’s ten years. For pedophilia, it’s until the victim turns 28: so ten years after they become an adult. The Vatican, in exceptional cases, can waive the statute of limitations (unlike in US law). But the CDF *only* had jurisdiction over crimes related to the confessional at the time of the Mirphy trial- this authority was broadened to include all pedophilia cases in 2001, presumably because of the poor job the bishops were doing.

    So in the Murphy case, the Vatican originally suggested proceeding against him, but after his letter made clear that he had been reduced to a contrite, dying man, they advised against proceeding. On numerous occassions, Weakland defied Vatican directives. His compliance here wasn’t forced- he apparently concurred in the judgment. I do, as well. The CDF didn’t have the authority to proceed on any other pedophilia case outside of the confessional, because that was the bishop’s jurisdiction and the praescriptio had lapsed (Which again, was drectly Weakland’s fault; yet he’s the Times’ source pointing a finger at Ratzinger).

    I share your outrage; I just direct it at the bishops, who were the ones in authority. Blaming this on the pope would be like blaming Obama or Chief Justice Roberts for all th sex abuse in America, or at least all the botched sex abuse law enforcement (here, for example, the victims also told the police, who did nothing; that’s the police’s fault, not Roberts or Obama’s).

    I don’t think either pope has been immaculate, but I do think Benedict has done about the best job imaginable, given the circumstances. Certainly, I can’t point to anyone who I feel has or would do a better job on this than he has (including his beloved predecessor).

    Do you think that in 1996, the Vatican *should* have pushed to defrock Fr Murphy, given the circumstances?


  6. Gentlemen,

    I decided to take a Holy week break from our discussion. I do appreciate your responses, even if I am disappointed with some of the comments.

    I agree the sexual abuse is not a Catholic issue, but unfortunately, a society issue. That is why the history of sexual abuse at our Church and cover-up from bishops is so tragic. Our Church should help us get closer to God, live a more Christian live, be good citizens. Instead, we have an institution that has violated our trust and the safety of our children.

    I don’t blame God. God gave us free will. Christ is the head of the Church, but the people he entrusted to manage it failed to him and to us. One thing is for a priest to abuse a kid, but another is for an organization to protect those who did wrong.

    I would have defrock Fr Murphy. Your main concern should have been with the victims, and their sense of closure. That is the whole problem with the Church’s actions. In the name of “forgiveness” and second chances, the Church allowed these abusers to continue to be involved in the Church, and have access to our children.

    While Cardinal Ratzinger lead the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, these cases were getting reported to his organization. This happened while all the involved bishops were allowing abusers to move from church to church, covering up the incidents.

    Please understand how it is so incredibly hard to believe that while all these was happening and all these cases were reported, Cardinal Ratzinger didn’t know anything about it. This is not a result of the liberal media bias. It is a result of the actions of our Church.

    The Church should have protected the victims from day 1, instead of being more concern with protecting the priests and its image.

  7. Mr. Rodriguez,

    Thank you for your thoughtful posts. I hope you had a blessed Holy Week. We are both outraged by the crimes that some priests have committed against children. Also, if bishops have failed in their duty in any way to protect children, then those failures should be repented for and necessary steps taken to make sure they are not repeated.

    Here’s where I’m concerned with your responses though: at no point do you really point in a direction of where to go from here. The Catholic Church has made significant strides in protecting children. What else specifically do you want done?

    I think that is a fair question. Considering you are a member of a school board, it seems especially relevant. Considering the fact that only about 20% of child mistreatment cases in schools are ever reported to civil authorities for investigation is alarming. The fact that over 50% of all sexual abuse cases involving children are perpetrated by a parent or relative is disgusting. The fact that between 1950 and 2002 around 0.03% of all known cases of sexual abuse of a minor were done by priests is of course outrageous. However, the steps the Catholic Church has taken in response are clear. What still remains unclear is where we as a society can go from here if we really are concerned about protecting children.

    (statistics referenced from studies sited here: )

  8. I can only comment about our school district, and we do follow a strict policy regarding reporting cases of improper conduct of teachers with our students. I believe we all have a moral responsibility to protect our children from abusers and predators.

    I definitely want to comment on what to do from this point to move forward. Please refer to my comment under a more recent article on this Blog.

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