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