Tue. Dec 5th, 2023

Only a morally bankrupt Pope could call news of his role in a child abuse cover-up “petty gossip.

Pope Benedict XVI prays during the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday on April 2, 2010 at Saint Peter’s Basilica at The Vatican.

Written by Andrew Sullivan for timesonline.co.uk

We know two things about Pope Benedict XVI this Easter that we didnt know last Easter. We know that he was implicated in covering up two cases of multiple child rapes and molestations, one in Germany and one in the United States. His record on this makes it hard to distinguish his career from that of many other bishops and cardinals who were indirectly but clearly guilty of ignoring or covering up their underlings violation of the bodies and souls of the young and the vulnerable.

The Vatican has spent Holy Week fighting back against those facts, but it cannot abolish or undo them. The German case is the most clear-cut because it was so glaring and so directly connected to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the Pope was then known. The facts are these: a priest, Peter Hullermann, was found guilty of raping children in at least three families under Ratzingers authority in the late 1970s. The local priest indicated that the families would not file charges under the current circumstances, and the case went to Ratzinger, who decided not to report the priest to the criminal authorities, nor to strip him of his office, but to send him for therapy and retain him as an active priest, capable of molesting again. The priest subsequently raped many more children; he was found guilty in 1986 and was given a suspended sentence.

The Popes first defence was that he knew nothing about it and that his subordinate at the time, Gerhard Gruber, took full responsibility. We then discovered that the psychiatrist in the case had contacted Ratzingers office on several occasions, warning him of the danger the priest represented. I said, For Gods sake, he desperately has to be kept away from working with children, the psychiatrist told The New York Times.

We also discovered that the future pontiff was copied on a memo about the reasons for transferring the child-rapist for therapy, which also indicated that the priest would return to pastoral work almost immediately: ie, he would still be allowed to interact with children. In the dry words of The New York Times: Neither the Vatican nor the German archdiocese had previously mentioned in their statements that Cardinal Ratzinger was sent a memo relating to the reassignment of Father Hullermann. We also know Ratzinger chaired the meeting at which the therapy was decided upon.

The Pope has responded to the news by having surrogates disparage The New York Times and publicly referring to petty gossip in an apparent allusion to these new facts.

The US case is more complicated. It involved the abuse of 200 deaf boys by one Father Lawrence Murphy in Wisconsin. The rapes, molestations and abuse continued for decades, and the hierarchy refused to take action. Many of the children had been sent to the school because their parents couldnt cope; Murphy, according to reports in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, would come into their dorm at night, take them into a closet and molest them. [One victim, Arthur Budzinski,] said he told Archbishop William E Cousins and other officials about the abuse in 1974 when he was 26. The archbishop yelled at Budzinski, he said. He left the meeting crying.

By 1996 two decades later, with Murphys victims now at the 200 mark the case went to Rome. Because some of the abuse had happened within the confessional itself, Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), had responsibility. The bulk of the blame for this abuse lies with the local archbishops, who sat on the case for decades, but when it did come to Ratzingers attention in 1996, the CDF dragged its feet, did not defrock the priest and, as the priest neared his death, encouraged an end to a canonical trial.

In this case, Ratzinger could more credibly argue he was out of the loop. But you wonder: if you were responsible for handling the case of a priest who you knew had abused, raped and molested up to 200 deaf children for decades, would you not believe it was your business to resolve it swiftly? Would you be concerned, as the documents from the case reveal he was, about the risk of increasing scandal and the need for secrecy? Would you encourage the archbishop to drop the trial in view of the priests ailing health and imminent death?

I can only speak for myself a wayward Catholic sinner, a married homosexual who still clings to the truth of the Gospels and the sacredness of the church. I wouldnt do any of those things. Full stop. If I knew I had any role witting or unwitting in allowing children to be raped by someone I could have stopped, by someone over whom I had authority, I would not be able to sleep at night. I would be haunted for the rest of my life. The thought of covering up for someone who forced sex on deaf children in closets at night is incomprehensible to me. Allowing someone who had raped three children to go elsewhere and rape many more, when you were explicitly warned that this man was a walking danger to children? I dont want to sound self-righteous, but: no. Never. Under any circumstances; in any period of time; for whatever reason. Even if my failure were mere negligence, my conscience would be racked.

So, why, to ask the obvious question, isnt the Popes? Even criminals in prison treat child molesters as the lowest of the low, the darkest manifestation of human evil. How can the Pope have any moral authority on any subject until and unless he has explained this series of events, held himself accountable and repented, if not resigned? Instead he carries on as if nothing has changed, as if nothing in these revelations about his life really matters.

It has to matter. A pope with no moral authority simply cannot function as a pope. Yes, he has ecclesiastical power. But ecclesiastical power without moral authority merely exposes the hollowness of an unaccountable, self-perpetuating clerisy. Does he think we dont know? Does he understand that any parent of any child will be unable to imagine themselves in the same moral universe as this man?

He will not quit, of course. And he will not personally repent for these personal failings in public. This is all petty gossip fomented by enemies of the church. Its old news. He has reformed things. He has, in the words of the Vatican, nonresponsibility. Others will take the fall for those crimes of the past. And the broken souls and bodies that remain out there the scarred victims of this abuse of power where are they this Easter? What place do they have on this, our holiest day?

They will have to seek justice from the state and healing from God. If they retain the hope of Easter, that good can eventually outlast evil, that darkness can cede to light, I pray they can cling to the faith that is still ours in a church that is increasingly alien. Peter denied Jesus three times. But Easter still came.

That is what many of us still cling to, through the incomprehension and betrayal. We still have our faith even if we can no longer trust the hierarchy of our church. Its moral authority is over. Our moral struggle never ends until we find salvation in the God who loves children and doesnt rape them.

Andrew Sullivan is an author, academic and journalist. He holds a PhD from Harvard in political science, and is a former editor of The New Republic. His 1995 book, Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality, became one of the best-selling books on gay rights. He has been a regular columnist for The Sunday Times since the 1990s, and also writes for Time and other publications.


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Joyce Lovelace
Joyce Lovelace
13 years ago

Not to go all femi-nazi or anything, but have you noticed that ALL the hype is about priests who molested boys. Many priests used their influence to molest girls – but we almost never hear about it. I suppose it is the homophobia effect.

Either way the Catholic church has done much to hurt the church (Catholic and Protestant) by not aggressively addressing the situation.

Is their any information on how many Protestant clergy have been caught in this same type of crime? (or Rabbi’s or other clerics for that matter)

Ken Carman
13 years ago

I know there are many examples of protestant clergy doing this but I think the reason it doesn’t make as much news is the world of protestantism is divided and not as centralized/top heavy authority-wise. “The church,” as Catholics call it, is structured top down. That makes any scandals all that more problematic.

Hmmm… what no nuns? Once again: this may be part of the male driven hierarchy. Power corrupts, absolute power makes the heart grow… fondle-r?

RS Janes
13 years ago

Ken, I don’t recall reading that many Protestant clergy, Muslim Imams or Jewish Rabbis engaged in this sort of malicious activity, although I’m sure there are some isolated cases. The Catholic Church’s celibacy edict for priests is unique among the world’s major religions and, I think, leads to such horrible sexual aberrations as child molestation. Pastors, Imams and Rabbis are free to marry and have a sexual life and families; meanwhile, Catholic priests can’t even masturbate with the sanction of the church.

Joyce, I have read the Catholic Church teaches its priests that fornication is sex with a woman that could lead to pregnancy, and is an excommunicatible offense. However — and this is a stretch — there’s nothing said about sex with other men or male children which these pedophile priests may be using as a loophole. Nuns I don’t know about.

Ken Carman
13 years ago

I know for a fact there have been cases. Indeed at the UU church I used to go to we had a problem with a minister and a a Sunday school teacher. I think the reason we don’t hear about them is they get taken care of quicker and are isolated by the singular nature of the church. Even though Boston is our headquarters they don’t control who becomes the minister, they can’t shuffle ministers around: most protestant churches are bottom up in structure, not top down. I suspect this is a wider problem than we believe, though celibacy doesn’t help at all in “The Church.” Not at all.

I suspect they do masturbate. Kind of hard to stop. But guilt is built into Catholicism, more so than some, and absolution even more so, and all that probably leads to more risky behavior. Confession is pretty much unique to Catholicism I believe. “Say three Hail Marys and sin no more…” usually leads to sinning some more. Confession is kind of like Catholic’s get out of Hell card. Not meant to be that… but human will pervert what can be perverted.

Hmmm… “perverted…” I kind of miss having a cute little perverted simile to place here like some sites have…

Yes, these could be considered “isolated cases,” but I suspect not. Churches, by nature, need to be welcoming and “Brother,” or “Father” or minister are still venerated titles. Both of these items protect predators… for a while. But they aren’t as powerful as “priest” and not any where near as much as having a top down organization where the head of it: the Pope, is supposed to be speaking for God/voice of/have the most direct line to God. Jesus’ rep here on Earth: practically the incarnation in some more conservative Catholic minds. “Infallible.” (Choke. Cough. Smirk.) Jones, if I remember right, had a problem with this too and that was top down as well… though much smaller in nature. God help us if a Jimmy like character ever ascends to Popehood. Some have come close.

Simply put: you wouldn’t hear, read or see much about these cases because they are more local, short lived and less worldwide in nature.

I’m sure the Church does teach that, having been inoculated into Catholicism through my wife’s family, but celibacy is celibacy. Enforced as strictly as other sexual activities are it shouldn’t make a diff. I suspect this is much like when a cop gets in trouble and the tough talking chief protects their ass. We had such a case here. Publicly he was “Hang em’ high,” Joe Casey but his men could do anything and he became a sponge heart-ed softy. In other words, forgiveness is more for your own than elsewhere. Not what Christ taught, but whomever said they were consistent?

I can’t speak for Rabbis or Muslims… wow, that would be quite the contradiction their take on sex and behavior… or the various clergy involved in other religions. Though I did hear that ying got on with yang once. When Homer Simpson ran into that liaison he went, “Dao!” (Tao)

RS Janes
13 years ago

Ken, in those UU cases you know about, were the people involved prosecuted by the law or just dismissed?

A guy I knew who grew up in Catholic parochial schools said as a teenager he once asked an old priest about Papal infallibility — how is it that an archbishop or bishop who made human mistakes suddenly became infallible by his election to Pope?

Prepared for a long ecumenical answer, or an angry renunciation, he was surprised when the old priest laughed and said (paraphrase), “Being Pope means never having to say you’re sorry — even if you’re wrong you’re right.” (Should I connect the dots to the hard-right GOP neocons here?)

IMO, both the GOP and the Catholic Church in their present forms are
on their last legs — they will still be around, but purged of the worst elements. (I think an American Catholic Church that allows priests to marry and dumps the ‘altar boy’ tradition may be right around the corner.)

According to my Jewish friends, sex is not an obsession among the Rabbis, except in the ultra-orthodox sects, and, while there may be fooling around between some of the adults, they have heard of no child molestation.

I know less about Islam, but they do marry and settle down, and, again, except in the extreme fringe orthodox sects, women may be shy to discuss sex or act in a provocative manner, but there’s plenty of sex going on. That’s in this country — I don’t know what’s going on in the Middle East, although sodomy among men is very popular in Turkey I’ve read.

Ken Carman
13 years ago

One was prosecuted, but that was the Sunday school teacher and he had been chased from church to church (different denominations) … ironically the same folks who cheered him on hated me as a Sunday school teacher because I would cooperate with their demands to control content. The minister lawyered up but was kicked out.

But taken care of by the congregation: more control by the congregation is better when it comes to stuff like this. The larger the organization the more it protects itself, it seems. Especially with heavy top down management.

One can hope in regard to your opinion. I think we’re on opposite ends often when it comes to the half empty/half full glass concept. I also find where things should logically go often isn’t where they do go. Humanity and the societies they build aren’t always as predictable as we assume. We do have our gremlin like demons, real or metaphorical.

I think; other than the more conservative sects, the Jews have few problems with sex. If I hadn’t been married many years ago when she visited a UU church I was visiting myself, I might have dated a female Rabbi. (Or whatever they call it if “female” Rabbi isn’t allowed: but in many versions of Judaism I believe it is.) I don’t think sex is something they repress all that much. Their situation, I believe, is one of a different kind of guilt: not calling your mother, not following the faith, in days past marrying outside the faith or one “not approved” by parents… and a faith that can be confusing even for Rabbis sometimes. Christianity is a lot simpler: but solutions are never that simple. From time to time I have thought of converting to one of the more liberal forms of Judaism. I’m a bit more of a deist/theist than many UUs but I deeply believe in the power of us learning from all of our different beliefs: a very UU oriented concept. Kind of like the blind men (and women) describing an elephant, I think we all have a piece of the truth/what’s holy. Various sizes. The Fundies pieces are microscopic at best; IMO.

I’m like you when it comes to Islam. I have read the Koran. Kind of a concentrated version of all the things in the Bible that God supposedly is going to do to you if you don’t follow and accept… whatever. But I would think sex happens a lot more than anyone will ever admit. My guess is as long as you don’t get caught by the religious “police;” just go ahead and give yourself and your partner a hand, or a… If you do get caught you give Islam a hand: literally. Or you give head.

Damn. That was a harsh place to go for a joke, even for me!

Ana Grarian
13 years ago

Nuns have often been criticized for their harshness and sometimes real cruelty. I have heard many stories from hospitals and homes that “helped” unwed mothers.

I think the idea that Protestant churches are more independent is the reason why we don’t hear so much about that side. Their is not one Sr. Executive who can be held responsible, and they have more local control over leadership. In many denominations the Pastor is hired by the local congregation, not assigned by the denomination.

Of course we have seen cult leaders and Mormon Pastors reviled in the press for forced marriages of young girls.

Unfortunately this behavior along with other extremist behavior like harassing funerals, blaming victims for floods, flying planes into buildings, and suicide bombers, makes it difficult for those of us who are trying to live an inspiring life led by the scriptures. It helps if you filter your actions through the Great Commandment, or at least the Golden Rule.

Ken Carman
13 years ago

That’s essentially what I was trying to say. Thanks.

Millie went to Catholic school. She would agree regarding the nuns. The nun who did gym for the girls had a dog that she allowed to follow them as they jogged etc. If the dog didn’t think a girl was jogging fast enough he’d bite them. No one spoke of it,

Ana Grarian
13 years ago

I think that “no one spoke of it” policy is true in many situations and certainly was back when I was a kid. Applied to spousal and child abuse, having a handicapped family member, infidelity etc)People didn’t “make waves” and children were often not believed. Of course evil people still know how to play mind games with vulnerable victims to keep them quiet.

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