Commonweal Editorial: "Benedict in the Dock"

The editorial of the April 9th issue of Commonweal has been posted on their website, and I think it is well worth reading. Here are some excerpts.

In his last years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and from the beginning of his papacy, Pope Benedict has demonstrated a real understanding of the nature and scope of the clergy sexual-abuse crisis. He came to that understanding much too slowly, but once he grasped the dimensions and horror of the scandal he acted with diligence and genuine remorse, accelerating the process for removing priests, meeting with victims, and demanding at least some measure of accountability from his fellow bishops.

(He certainly comes across as one of the good guys in the Marcial Maciel debacle, at least in Jason Berry's telling of it -- which everyone should read, by the way.)

Much of the pope’s good work in this regard is now likely to be brushed aside as the history of his own negligence in handling an abusive priest when he was archbishop of Munich thirty years ago comes to light. It should not be surprising that then-Archbishop Ratzinger accepted an offending priest from another diocese, placed him in therapy, and immediately reassigned him to another parish where he abused more children. Burying rather than confronting the problem of abusive priests is what nearly every bishop did at the time.

I've spent a lot of time trying to decide what to think about the various accusations being leveled at the pope. Many of the things being written about him, both in the mainstream media and the blogosphere, have every appearance of being knee-jerk responses that predictably line up with the writer's previous feelings about Benedict: his admirers certain of his innocence, his detractors equally certain of his guilt, even before many of the pertinent facts came out.

Now, I think, enough of the facts are out, and basically I agree with Commonweal's take on the Munich situation:
No sentient person could believe the denials church officials in Munich and the Vatican made on behalf of the pope, saying Benedict played no role in the transfer of the abusive priest. With dreary predictability, documents have surfaced showing that the pope had in fact presided at the meeting where the transfer and reassignment were approved. Even if Benedict paid little attention to such administrative details, as archbishop he was still responsible for putting that priest in a place where he could abuse again. The church should have made this story known to the public years ago. Mistakes can be forgiven; what breeds mistrust and cynicism is the refusal to admit error.
What is most bothersome to me about the Munich situation is not what he did at the time, but the fact that he's not owning up to it now, and has instead let a subordinate take the blame. I'm sure he believed at the time that the priest in question was not a risk to reoffend, and one can imagine him receiving ill-informed "expert" advice to that effect; but if he had just admitted his negligence in this matter, he would be in a very different situation right now.

I wonder, though, how much of the Vatican's response is coming from Benedict and how much is coming from the very corrupt curial officials around him (see the Jason Berry article mentioned above -- I had long ago heard of members of the curia receiving lavish "gifts" and large sums of money from Maciel, but I didn't know it was people like Cardinals Sodano and Dziwisz).

How much freedom does a pope really have? If the pope decided to blow the whistle on the corruption in the curia, what would happen? Why do I have the feeling we'd be seeing a conclave about sixteen days later?



Anonymous Henry said...

How much freedom does a pope really have? This is a really important question because many people think that the “organizational” aspect of the Church is just like the Marines.

For example, I was watching “A Few Good Men” and it dawned on me that people think that the Pope gives an order and everyone just snaps to attention and does it immediately.

Well, I can tell you from experience, that the majority of priests are narcissists that follow themselves. Here’s an example from my own life. There used to be a priest in my parish that was teaching heresy, complete heresy. I spoke to him about it many times, I wrote letters to him and then finally wrote to the Bishop. Well the Bishop’s office called him when I happened to be in the rectory and he angrily came to me and said: “I don’t care what the Bishop says, no one can tell me what to say and I am going to do what I want.”

Well, this illustrates the problem doesn’t it?

BTW, here’s an interesting story you might be interesting in reading, “Let's Get the Story Straight: Defrocking and Divorce by Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.”

1:36 p.m.  

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