Pope Benedict's Legacy Marred by Sex Abuse Scandal
By R U S S E L L G OL D M A N
As the sex abuse
scandal spread from North America to Europe, Benedict became the first pope
to meet personally with victims, and offered repeated public apologies for
the Vatican's decades of inaction against priests who abused their
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"No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse,"
the pope said in a 2008
homily in Washington, D.C., before meeting with victims of abuse for the
first time. "It is important that those who have suffered be given loving
pastoral attention." During the same trip to the U.S., he met with victims
for the first time.
For some of the victims, however, Benedict's actions were "lip service and a
public relations campaign," said Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who
represents victims of sex abuse. For 25 years, Benedict, then known as
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the Vatican office responsible for
investigating claims of sex abuse, but he did not act until he received an
explicit order from Pope John Paul II.
In 1980, as Archbishop of Munich, Ratzinger approved plans for a priest to
move to a different German parish and return to pastoral work only days
after the priest began therapy for pedophilia. The priest was later
convicted of sexually abusing boys.
In 1981, Cardinal Ratzinger became head of the Vatican's Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith – the office once known as the Inquisition --
making him responsible for upholding church doctrine, and for investigating
claims of sexual abuse against clergy. Thousands of letters detailing
allegations of abuse were forwarded to Ratzinger's office.
A lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the
Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a victims' rights
group, charges that as head of the church body Ratzinger participated in a
cover-up of abuse. In an 84-page complaint, the suit alleges that
investigators of sex abuse cases in several countries found "intentional
cover-ups and affirmative steps taken that serve to perpetuate the violence
and exacerbate the harm."
"Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, either knew and/or some cases consciously
disregarded information that showed subordinates were committing or about to
commit such crimes," the complaint says.
Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican's lawyer in the U.S., told the AP the complaint
was a "ludicrous publicity stunt and a misuse of international judicial
In the 1990s, former members of the Legion of Christ sent a letter to
Ratzinger alleging that the founder and head of the Catholic order, Father
Marcial Maciel, had molested them while they were teen seminarians. Maciel
was allowed to continue as head of the order.
In 1996, Ratzinger didn't respond to letters from Milwaukee's archbishop
about a priest accused of abusing students at a Wisconsin school for the
deaf. An assistant to Ratzinger began a secret trial of the priest, Father
Lawrence Murphy, but halted the process after Murphy wrote a personal appeal
to Ratzinger complaining of ill health.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II issued a letter urging the Congregation of the
Doctrine of the Faith to pursue allegations of child abuse in response to
calls from bishops around the world.
Ratzinger wrote a letter asserting the church's authority to investigate
claims of abuse and emphasizing that church investigators had the right to
keep evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the alleged victims
Ratzinger became upset -- and slapped Ross's hand -- when ABC News Chief
Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross asked him a question in 2002 about
the delay in pursuing sex abuse charges against Maciel.
But by 2004, Ratzinger had ordered an investigation of Maciel, and after
becoming pope, he ordered Maciel to do penance and removed him from the
active priesthood. After becoming pope Benedict spoke openly about the
crisis, but he was repeatedly accused of having participated in a cover-up.
In April 2010, Benedict and other officials were accused by members of
of covering up alleged child abuse by 19 bishops.
At the time, the Pope told reporters he was "deeply ashamed" of the
allegations of sex abuse by his subordinates and reportedly said, "We will
absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry."
READ: Victims Say Pope Benedict Protects Accused Pedophile Bishops
Several other accusations followed from alleged victims around the world,
prompting Benedict to make a public statement later that month from St.
Peter's Square in the Vatican. In his speech, he said the Catholic Church
would take action against alleged sexual abusers. The Pope described a
tearful meeting in Malta with eight men who claimed to have been abused by
"I shared with them their suffering, and with emotion, I prayed with them,"
said Benedict, "assuring them of church action."
In 2010, he personally apologized to Irish victims of abuse.
"You have suffered grievously, and I am truly sorry," the pope wrote in an
eight-page letter to Irish Catholics. "Your trust has been betrayed and your
dignity has been violated."
But for those who advocate on behalf of the victims, the pope's words did
not go far enough.
"Tragically, he gets credit for talking about the crisis," said David
Clohessy, executive director of SNAP. "He only ever addressed the crimes and
never the cover-ups. And only in the past tense, which is self-serving. Sex
crimes and cover-ups are still happening."
Clohessy called the meetings the pope had with victims "symbolic gestures."
"This controversy that has reached even the highest office of the Vatican
won't go away until the pope himself tells us what he knew, when he knew it,
and what he's going to do about it," said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a
Catholic priest and professor of theology at Notre Dame University.
Lena, the Vatican's U.S. lawyer, declined to comment on charges that
Benedict had participated in a cover up, but said the fact that two major
cases against the Church in U.S. courts, including the Murphy case, had
"been dismissed by the plaintiffs themselves, speaks volumes for the
strength and integrity of those cases."