Focus turns to pope as German, Dutch sex abuse scandals unfold

March 11, 2010
benedict host

Pope Benedict XVI in the Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, 2 Feb 2010/Max Rossi

The more the scandal of Catholic priests sexually abusing boys in Germany spreads, the more the focus turns to Rome to see how Pope Benedict reacts. The story is getting ever closer to the German-born pope, even though he has been quite outspoken denouncing these scandals and had just met all Irish bishops to discuss the scandals shaking their country. Nobody’s saying he had any role in the abuse cases now coming to light in Germany. But the fact that some took place in Regensburg while he was a prominent theologian there, that his brother Georg has admitted to smacking lazy members of his choir there and that Benedict was archbishop in Munich from 1977 to 1982 lead to the classic cover-up question: what did he know and when did he know it?

This is only the start of what can be a long, drawn out and possibly damaging story for Benedict’s PR-deficient papacy. His crises to date have been linked to his statements or decisions, such as the controversial Regensburg speech that offended Muslims or several run-ins with Jews over restoring old prayers they consider anti-Semitic or rehabilitating an ultra-traditionalist priest who is also a Holocaust denier. But now it’s about what he did or didn’t do in the past and how he moves to avoid further scandals in the future.

stimmen der zeit

Stimmen der Zeit, March 2010 edition

As my analysis today put it:

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that if anyone leads innocent children to sin, “it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

That passage must now be ringing in the ears of the Roman Catholic clergy in Germany and the Netherlands, where the Church’s latest scandals of priests sexually abusing boys have broken out, and echoing down the marbled halls of the Vatican.

The alarm bells are tolling all the more urgently in Rome, where tenuous links run from Bavarian boarding schools all the way to the German-born Pope Benedict. Critics are asking what he knew and did then and what he will do now.

Benedict will meet Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, at the Vatican on Friday to discuss the scandals and address a letter to the Irish people, possibly on St. Patrick’s Day next Wednesday.  Other stories we’ve run in this series include “Vatican says wrong to single out Church over abuse”, “Pope’s brother “didn’t know of school’s brutality”, “Germany wants Catholic clarity on abuse cases” and  FACTBOX – Sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.”

Fr. Andreas Batlogg S.J., editor in chief of the German Jesuit monthly Stimmen der Zeit, said these abuse cases would be “radically cleared up, even if it’s uncomfortable” but also stressed how difficult that might be. “It’s very hard to go back 30 or 40 years with today’s knowledge and crisis management and ask if something was right,” he told me by phone from his office in Munich. “The Church is learning now. There has been a change of perspective, now the victims are in the spotlight, not the perpetrators any more.”

In an article for his journal’s April edition (here in German), the theologian and psychotherapist Wunibald Müller warns his German readers that the U.S. Catholic Church “has not yet recovered” from the scandals that hit it early in the last decade. “It would have been spared some shocks if it had taken available insights and proposed procedures more seriously,” he wrote. “In cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests, the only option is a relentless approach that shines unlimited light on the situation. Nothing must stay in the dark, be hushed up or hidden or played down. Nothing.”

But how far will Benedict go in “shining unlimited light” on the situation in Germany? He seemed to be on that path in Ireland after the devastating Ryan and Murphy reports there, but he disappointed Irish abuse victims by not shaking up the Irish hierarchy as many expected he would when or soon after he called all Irish bishops to Rome for talks in mid-February. Will he take a tougher stand with the Church in Germany?

It’s interesting to see the bishops in the neighbouring Netherlands,  faced with a similar wave of abuse charges against Church-run boarding schools there, promptly decided to set up an independent commission led by a Protestant to examine the issue. The German bishops fought against suggestions from Berlin for a probe just into Catholic schools and now look set to agree to “round table talks” that will include Protestant leaders, family associations and school and local officials. This waters down the focus on the Catholic Church, which insists the probe must not overlook the far larger number of pedophile cases that take place outside its walls. It will be interesting to see if the Dutch bishops earn more public support with their inquiry than the Germans win with theirs.

munich cathedral

Munich with its landmark cathedral (Frauenkirche), 9 Feb 2008/Alexandra Beier

The big question is whether someone in the Munich archdiocese will come forward with embarrassing charges of being abused sexually by a diocesan priest during the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s time as archbishop there. Seen from today’s perspective, where the focus is now on the victim rather than the perpetrator, even not knowing about abuse cases on one’s watch could be taken as a sign of negligent leadership. Once a debate starts off like that, who knows where it will end?

Benedict and his Vatican aides have stumbled badly on issues easier to handle than this one. Especially after the uproar over the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson, his fellow Germans hardly seem ready to cut him any slack. There may be some stormy times ahead.

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In a press release by the Holy See’s Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., on March 9, 2010, ”concerning cases of the sexual abuse of minors in ecclesiastical institutions,” Lombardi parrots the Holy See’s predictable responses to the church’s widening problems of sexual abuse, particularly that of minor children.

The institutional Roman Catholic church has reacted to the continuing sexual abuse debacle neither rapidly nor decisively, contrary to what Lombardi states.

The Vatican has attempted to distance itself from what has happened in country after country, first categorizing it as an “American problem,” then as a ”homosexual problem.”

What was done by church leadership in the United States, for example, it was forced to do by the pressure of public opinion after records, files and correspondence were forced into the public venue in 2002 by Judge Constance M. Sweeney, a very brave, grounded and principled Catholic woman in Boston, Massachusetts.

Read the entire article at –

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims’ Advocate
New Castle, Delaware, USA

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[…] Q: Pope being set up over Munich sex abuse case, says Vatican Q: Vatican officials defend pope on abuse Q: Abuse Scandal in Germany Edges Closer to Pope Q: Focus turns to pope as German, Dutch sex abuse scandals unfold […]

Posted by bugger it | Benni ist unschuldig! || || | Report as abusive

I am disgusted by the arrogance that allows the Catholic church to say that THEIR pedophiles aren’t criminals. And reports that these pedophile priests are now too old to prosecute! Why is that relevant? Their punishment, after all these years, is not getting to say Mass?

And their accomplices? The bishops et. al. that shipped them around and covered up? That criminal behavior, because they’re religious, isn’t for the law of the land to decide?

Then the question as to whether the pope is involved has an obvious answer. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he set cover up and threatening the victims as routine policy. Then, he has staffed an office of 10 as the ONLY ones to investigate. By their own figures, what?, they’ve covered maybe 30% of reported cases in the last decade? That’s not rhetoric, but damn lame fact.

Maybe Benedict could divert some of the staff he sent over to investigate American nuns (!!)to investigating crimes.

This is what you get with a “Christain nation?” The church/state collusion in Ireland, and the moral bankruptcy of the Catholic church should warn everyone of the Founders’ wisdom in their separation of church and state. (Quick, how many of our Supreme Court justices are Catholic?)

The Catholic Church has lost its moral authority when men are more important than children and all they offer is “They did it too” and “we’re working hard, in secret, to fix the problem – trust us” and “women can’t be priests” and “priests can’t marry” and my personal favorite, and “Those were different times”

DIFFERENT TIMES was only 25 years ago – well, the Irish debacle lasted into the 90’s. But if the church didn’t know better in the 80s, shame on its wise, male, infallible leadership. They need to come clean.

Posted by karenveni | Report as abusive

Listening to Public Broadcasting on this scandal last week, I heard a German lady who was raped by a priest mention that ‘now that he’s old, he may not be a danger’….wrong, wrong, wrong! Age is no guarantee that his sex life is over at all! With Viagra, Cialis, and other ED drugs, men in their 90’s are totally active with sex and remain a danger to children and women in their environment. Do not mistake these old priests as being safe…they are not now and never were…and they are protected by the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, completely complicit in their decades of criminal sexual assault on all their parishoners, men, women and especially children! A word of warning to Catholics worldwide.

Posted by Ninetynine | Report as abusive

Is this one of the all time travesties for the church to undermine the seriousness of these crimes, check out it show in real time (graphs) people who supports the church there are some sick puppies out there

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[…] has been under attack recently because of new revelation of sexual abuse committed by priests. Tom Heneghan, the Religion Editor at Reuter calls the recent sex abuse scandals in the Church, particularly the […]

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