FaithWorld

German Catholics urge pope to speak out on sex scandals

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"... And the pope is silent" reads the front page headline in this Hamburg daily, 15 March 2010

German Catholic politicians and lay activists urged Pope Benedict on Monday to speak out about sexual abuse cases by priests that have shocked the country and led to questions about his management of the crisis. The calls came amid widespread criticism in the media that the Bavarian-born pontiff made no statement after getting a briefing on the scandals at the Vatican on Friday from the leader of the Church in Germany, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch.

In Bavaria, a convicted abuser priest whose transfer to Munich in 1980 while Pope Benedict was archbishop there threatened to draw the pontiff into the scandal, was suspended from his post in a spa town, the Munich archdiocese announced.

“The Holy Father needs to say something about this,” Dirk Tänzler, head of the Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ), told the Berliner Zeitung daily. “The Church needs to be more honest and stricter with itself, and that naturally includes the pope,” Wolfgang Thierse, a vice president of the German parliament and member of the Central Committee of Catholics, told ARD television.

A Vatican prelate, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, said Benedict would soon speak with “his clear and decisive voice, without hiding anything” in an expected letter on similar scandals in Ireland, but gave no date or hint if it would mention Germany.  Fisichella, in an interview with the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, echoed Vatican attacks on the media for pursuing the scandals. “The rage against the pontiff is insane,” he said.

Irish bookmaker slashes odds on pope’s resignation

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead his weekly audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican March 10, 2010.  REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Pope Benedictat his weekly audience in the Vatican March 10, 2010/Alessia Pierdomenico

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power said Friday it had cut the odds on Pope Benedict resigning after allegations of child abuse by priests in Germany gripped the Roman Catholic Church.

Ireland’s biggest bookmaker, which has branches in Britain as well as Catholic Ireland, said it had cut the odds from 12 to 1 to 3 to 1 following a “cascade of bets.”

In Catholic debate on celibacy, “ask about” is different from “question”

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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn addresses a news conference in Vienna November 7, 2008S/Heinz-Peter Bader

Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn set off a storm in a teacup this week when he said the Roman Catholic Church had to ask tough questions about the reasons for the clergy sex abuse cases coming to light now in Europe. “The issue of celibacy belongs to that (questioning) as well as the issue of personality development (of priests). And a large portion of honesty belongs to this too, in the Church but also in society,” he wrote in a newsletter for Vienna archdiocese employees called thema kirche.

In the blogosphere, this somehow got turned into  headlines like  “Schönborn questions celibacy” and speculation that he was somehow challenging this centuries-old tradition. Those comments must have been based on dodgy Google translations from the German, because it’s clear in the original that he never questioned the celibacy rule itself. He said the Church should “ask about the reasons for sexual abuse” (nach den Ursachen sexuellen Missbrauchs fragen) and “celibacy belongs to that” set of issues to ask about. He did not say “put celibacy into question” (in Frage stellen) or “challenge celibacy” (hinterfragen).

A Mafia-like “omertà” on sexual abuse in the Catholic hierarchy?

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Protest against the clergy child sex abuse scandal in Boston outside Cardinal Bernard Law's Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, on Mother's Day, May 12, 2002/Jim Bourg

The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano has published an interesting article saying the Catholic Church might have avoided some of the clerical sex abuse scandals it now has if more women were in decision-making positions. The Italian historian Lucetta Scaraffia says that women “would have been able to rip the veil of masculine secrecy that in the past often covered with silence the denunciation of these misdeeds.” The word she used for “secrecy” is omertà, the  Italian term for “code of silence” well known to anyone who’s seen the Godfather movies or read about how the Mafia works.

Scaraffia writes that Pope John Paul said women should be given posts of equal importance as men and that Pope Benedict has written to bishops promoting collaboration between men and women in the Church. She then writes, in a rather academic style:

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

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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.

Irish abuse crisis aftershocks hit German, Dutch Catholic churches

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Bavarian flag at St. Peter's Basilica after Pope Benedict's election, 23 April 2005/Tom Heneghan

It’s like falling dominoes. The scandal of Roman Catholic priests sexually abusing children in Ireland, which came to light last year when two government inquiries cracked the wall of clerical silence there, seems to have inspired victims in other European countries to come forward with their repressed stories. It started in Germany last month with revelations about abuse cases in several elite Jesuit boarding schools. That sparked further reports from other parts of Germany, where reports of hundreds of cases are now coming out. In the neighbouring Netherlands, reports of abuse have also begun surfacing in recent days. On top of all that, an unrelated scandal about a gay prostitution ring has now hit the Vatican.

Since Pope Benedict summoned all Irish bishops to Rome and promised the Irish people a pastoral letter about the abuse cases, what will he do with all these cases now coming out in his homeland? Especially since, as explained below, he seems to have been quite close to some of them.

Theologians, historians urge Benedict to slow Pius XII saint process

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Undated photo of Pope Pius XII from the archives of the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano

A group of Catholic theologians and historians has written to Pope Benedict XVI urging him slow down the beatification process for the late Pope Pius XII, the next step on the way to making him a saint. Critics accuse Pius of not doing enough to prevent the Holocaust and the theologians and historians say they need to finish research into the Vatican’s wartime archives before the pope goes ahead with this case.

The letter is extremely rare because in the past it has mostly been Jewish groups and not Catholic academics who have written to popes about the issue, which has long strained Catholic-Jewish relations.

Can we expect Freudian slips when Benedict meets Irish bishops?

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This week's cover of the German newsweekly Der Spiegel -- the title says "The sanctimonious ones -- the Catholic Church and sex"

If there ever were a time for Pope Benedict to commit a Freudian slip that we could all understand, it would be in his meetings next week with Irish bishops to discuss the clerical sex abuse scandals that have shaken the Emerald Isle.

It’s not hard to imagine him meeting the Hibernian hierarchy behind closed Vatican doors and occasionally referring to the scandals “in Germany” rather than “in Ireland.” If he does, the Irish bishops will certainly forgive him. Enough has been happening in his fatherland recently to distract him from the uproar about the recent reports of clergy excesses in Ireland.

Serbian church leader breaks with past, invites pope to Belgrade

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Patriarch Irinej at a news conference in Belgrade, 28 Jan 2010/Ivan MIlutinovic

For all of Irinej Gavrilovic’s 80 years, his Serbian Orthodox Church has kept its distance from the Vatican and the pope, maintaining a division whose roots date back a millennium.  But only a few days into the job as the 45th Serbian Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej has several times repeated an invitation to the Roman Catholic pontiff, hoping that both men could celebrate a significant anniversary in 2013.

It was an expression of hope, not only that the churches could overcome past differences, but also that two men already in their 80s could make plans three years into the future.

On Thursday, Irinej discussed the invitation in a forum that none of his  recent predecessors had ever employed, the news conference, amid a give and take with a gaggle of reporters. There he said his church will be glad to welcome Pope Benedict to Serbia in 2013 in a bid to foster dialogue about reconciliation between two largest Christian communities, a millennium after their Great Schism.

For God’s sake, blog!, pope tells priests

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Vatican and new media on pope2you.net, 22 May 2009/Jonathan Bainbridge

For God’s sake, blog! Pope Benedict has told priests, saying they must learn to use new forms of communication to spread the gospel message.

In his message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Communications on Saturday, the pope, who is 82 and known not to love computers or the internet, acknowledged priests must make the most of the “rich menu of options” offered by new technology.

“Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources — images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites — which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis,” he said.