Vatican defends Benedict after report sets abuse record

ROME — The Vatican on Wednesday strongly defended Pope Benedict XVI’s record in tackling clergy sex abuse and warned against seeking “easy scapegoats and summary judgments” after an independent report criticized his handling of four abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Munich, Germany.

Holy See editorial director Andrea Tornielli provided the Vatican’s first substantial response to the report in an op-ed that appeared in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and its media portal, Vatican News. In it, Tornielli recalled that Benedict was the first pope to meet victims of abuse, that he issued strict norms to punish priests who rape children, and that he ordered the church to follow a path of humility in asking forgiveness for the crimes of his clerics. .

“All of this cannot be forgotten or erased,” Tornielli wrote.

A German law firm released the lengthy report last week that had been commissioned by the German church to examine how sexual abuse cases were handled in the archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. Benedict, the former cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the archdiocese from 1977 to 1982, when he was appointed head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The report’s authors criticized Ratzinger’s handling of four cases during his tenure as archbishop, and also blamed his predecessors and successors for their own misconduct in allowing predatory priests to remain in the ministry.

Through his secretary, Benoît, 94, said he would respond to the findings in due course. He previously acknowledged an editorial error in his own submission to researchers about a 1980 meeting in which the transfer of a pedophile priest to Munich was discussed. Benedict acknowledged this week that he did indeed attend the meeting, but denied that his return to pastoral work was discussed at the time. The priest was later given a suspended sentence for assaulting a boy.

Tornielli did not comment on the details of this or any other case, though he lamented that such attention was “predictably” given in the media to Benedict’s four-year term as archbishop. Instead, he focused on Benedict XVI’s tenure as prefect of the office of doctrine, from 1982 to 2005, and then as pope, from 2005 to 2013, when he retired.

While serving as prefect of the office of doctrine, Ratzinger in 2001 ordered that all cases of clergy sex abuse be sent to his office for processing, after seeing that bishops around the world were moving parish rapists to parish rather than punishing them under the aegis of the church. internal canon law. In the last two years of his pontificate, Benedict defrocked nearly 400 priests for abuse.

Tornielli noted that victims were often treated as “enemies” of the church, and that Ratzinger helped change that mentality by listening to victims and asking for their forgiveness, even against the wishes of conservatives who considered media reports on abuse as an attack on the church.

“It was Benedict XVI, even against the advice of many so-called ‘Ratzingerians’, who supported, amid the storm of scandals in Ireland and Germany, the face of a penitential Church, which humbles itself asking for forgiveness, who feels dismay, remorse, pain, compassion and closeness,” he wrote.

Tornielli noted that the Munich report was not a judicial condemnation and said it would only help combat the problem if the information was “not reduced to the search for easy scapegoats and summary judgments”. .

The current Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, is due to hold a press conference on Thursday to discuss the report’s findings.

Tornielli did not cite any specific cases, but Benedict XVI is widely credited with finally bringing the Catholic Church’s most notorious serial sexual predator, the Reverend Marcial Maciel, to justice after Pope John Paul II and its allies refused for years to make a credible move. reports that the founder of the Legion of Christ raped his seminarians.

Ratzinger had been barred from investigating Maciel after his victims filed a formal complaint with the Vatican. But once he became pope, he ordered Maciel to a life of penance and prayer.

Ratzinger, however, wasn’t so decisive earlier in his career. Years ago, documents emerged showing that in 1985 Ratzinger dithered on the case of a convicted pedophile in California who asked to be defrocked, delaying any action for two years.

The case of the Reverend Stephen Kiesle was proof that the Vatican under John Paul had strongly opposed priests leaving active ministry, even if they were found guilty of rape.

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An earlier version of this story has been corrected to show the cardinal’s first name is Reinhard, not Gerhard.

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