George A. Sprecace M.D.,
J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New
WRONG...OR RIGHT...(YOU DECIDE) WITH THE CATHOLIC CHURCH #30
ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
Setting the Record Straight
Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis
By Father John Flynn, LCROME, JUNE 6, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The ongoing
revelations about sexual abuses by priests in the Catholic Church is
bringing unprecedented attention on the role of the Vatican and
particularly on the actions of Benedict XVI. Amidst the flurry of
reports there is a danger, however, that the facts may be obscured by
the intensity of the opinions being expressed.
A recent example of this is Time magazine's June 7 cover story.
Superimposed over a photo of the Pope with his back turned is the
headline: "Why Being Pope Means Never Having to Say Sorry." A quick
glance at the section of the Vatican's Web page dedicated to the sexual
abuses, however, reveals that on repeated occasions Benedict XVI has
expressed his remorse over the abuses of children and adolescents. In
fact, the very top link is a video with a reading of paragraph 6 of the
Pope's March 19 letter to the Catholics of Ireland in which he states:
"You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry."
To help clear matters up Gregory Erlandson and Matthew Bunson have just
published a book titled: "Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse
Crisis" (Our Sunday Visitor). The authors are well placed to comment on
this issue. Erlandson is the president and publisher of Our Sunday
Visitor Publishing Company, while Bunson is the editor of the Catholic
Almanac and also the Catholic Answers magazine.
They start by stating that one of the lessons of the sexual abuse
scandals is not to be afraid of the truth. "The facts must be faced,
but they must also be examined with balance and honesty," the foreword
The questions about Benedict XVI's record arose with the publication of
reports about his treatment of a priest while the future Pope was
archbishop of Munich. Other accusations followed, concerning decisions
made when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith regarding cases of abuse in the United States. The media coverage
charged the Pontiff with neglect, cover-up, and a lack of concern for
the victims of abuse.
The authors of the book reject these assertions as false, but admit
that most of the public will have found it hard to find contrary points
of view that would lead them to a more accurate understanding of the
situation. The result is that Benedict XVI has been defamed, and also
that the record of the Catholic Church in the United States has been
overlooked. During the last few years the adoption of new norms and
procedures have brought about dramatic changes in the area of sexual
abuses, the book points out. Much of the recent media coverage,
however, presents a situation as if these changes had never happened.
Regarding the Pontiff's role while he headed the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith the authors make two important points. First,
prior to 2001 responsibility to deal with cases of sexual abuse was
spread among a number of Vatican offices, and it was not until the
publication of an apostolic letter on May 18 of that year that all
those priests charged with abuse were assigned to the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith. Secondly, as the then Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger took over the handling of these cases he underwent a change
in attitude and realized more clearly the gravity of the situation and
the need for much more determined action.
This led him to the words he wrote for the meditations on the Stations
of Cross on Good Friday 2005, just prior to the death of John Paul II.
For the Ninth Station he declaimed: "How much filth there is in the
Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong
entirely to him!"
Once the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took charge of
dealing with priests who committed sexual abuses it moved swiftly to
resolve them. This was explained in an interview Msgr. Charles J.
Scicluna gave to the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire in February of
this year. Around 60% of the cases have not gone to trial due to the
advanced age of those accused, but they have been subjected to
disciplinary action and taken out of any public ministry. Overall, in a
large number of cases local bishops have been allowed to take immediate
disciplinary action, so as not to delay the implementation of measures
before trials could take place.
Some of the media reports have criticized the slowness or lack of
action by Rome in dealing with priests guilty of abuse. But the authors
of the book quote from various sources which demonstrate that the
delays were much more the responsibility of the local American bishops
than any neglect by Cardinal Ratzinger or the officials in his office
dealing with these matters.
In fact, the authors of the book point out, one of the factors that
aggravated the problems of sexual abuse was the failure of bishops to
apply the Church laws and norms on how these cases should be treated.
It wasn't, however, only a failure by the bishops. When many of these
abuses took place, often several decades ago, psychiatrists and many
others in society at that time did not understand the intensity of the
illness behind such acts.
While much progress has been made, Erlandson and Bunson also make some
suggestions on additional steps the Church can take. First, the clear
tone of accountability that Benedict XVI has established needs to be
continued and perpetrators must be held accountable. Second, the
Vatican should look at making some worldwide norms, both to ensure that
civil authorities are informed of sexual abuse cases and also so that
there is consistency in dealing with cases of abuse. Third, the
spiritual renewal of the priesthood and religious life must continue.
Erlandson and Bunsen conclude their study by affirming that the clergy
sexual abuse crisis will most probably define the pontificate of
Benedict XVI. This isn't so much due to the quantity of the scandals
revealed, but more because of the leadership role he is taking.
Before becoming Pope he led decisive actions by the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith to deal with priest abusers. Once elected
Pope, he has met with a number of the victims, rebuked the offending
priests and challenged the bishops. He has also been at the forefront
of procedural reforms that mean the Church is able to respond more
quickly in dealing with cases of sexual abuse. The book quotes Cardinal
Sean O'Malley of Boston who said that for a decade the strongest ally
the American bishops had in Rome in dealing with sexual abuse was the
then Cardinal Ratzinger.
Once elected, Benedict XVI chose as his successor in the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith an American, Cardinal William J. Levada,
someone who was well aware of the scope of the scandals. In his
messages regarding sexual abuse the Pontiff he has spoken out clearly
and strongly. He is also aware of the need for a spiritual renewal,
which came out clearly in his letter to Irish Catholics, the book
The authors admit that, like many of his generation, the current Pope
was at first slow to grasp the gravity, but he did change to the point
where "he has evolved into a historic advocate for the reform and
renewal of the Church, and he understands the significance of the
In other words, Benedict XVI is not an obstacle to effectively dealing
with the problem of sexual abuse, but a vital part of the solution.