The Vatican on Wednesday strongly defended Pope Benedict XVI’s record in combating clergy sexual abuse and warned against seeking “easy scapegoats and summary trials”, after what an independent report criticized his handling of four abuse cases when he was archbishop of Munich, Germany.
The Holy See’s editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, provided the Vatican’s first substantive response to the report in an editorial that appeared on the Vatican media portal, vaticannews. In it, Tornielli He recalled that Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims of abuse, that he had issued strict regulations to punish priests who raped children and had ordered the church to follow a path of humility in seeking forgiveness for the crimes of his clerics.
“All this cannot be forgotten or erasedTornielli wrote.
A German law firm last week published a lengthy report that had been commissioned by the German church to investigate how sexual abuse cases were handled in the archdiocese between 1945 and 2019. Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the archdiocese from 1977 until 1982, when he was named president of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The report’s authors criticized Ratzinger’s handling of four cases during his time as archbishop, and also criticized his predecessors and successors for their own misconduct in allowing predatory priests to remain in ministry.
Through his secretary, Benedicto, 94, has said he will respond to the findings in due course. He has already acknowledged an editorial error in his own presentation to investigators about a 1980 meeting in which the transfer of a pedophile priest to Munich was discussed. Benedict acknowledged this week that he did attend the meeting, but denied that his return to pastoral work was being discussed at the time. The priest subsequently received a suspended sentence for sexually abusing a child.
Tornielli would not comment on the details of that or any other case, although he lamented that so much attention has “predictably” been given to Benedict’s four-year tenure as archbishop in the media. Instead, he focused on Benedict XVI’s tenure as prefect of the doctrine office, from 1982 to 2005, and then as pope, from 2005 to 2013, when he retired.
While prefect of the doctrine office, Ratzinger in 2001 ordered that all cases of clergy sexual abuse be sent to his office for processing, after seeing that bishops around the world were moving rapists from parish to parish instead of punishing them under the authority of the church. During the last two years of his pontificate, Benedict expelled nearly 400 priests for abuse.
Tornielli noted that victims were often treated as “enemies” of the church, and that Ratzinger helped change that mindset by listening to victims and asking for forgiveness, even against the wishes of conservatives who considered reports of church abuses means such as an attack on the church.
“It was Benedict XVI, even against the opinion of many self-styled ‘Ratzingerians’, who defended, in the midst of the storm of scandals in Ireland and Germany, the face of a penitential Church, which humbles itself asking for forgiveness, which feels dismay, remorse, pain, compassion and closeness”, wrote.
Tornielli noted that the Munich report was not a court ruling and said it would only help combat the problem if the information “It is not reduced to the search for easy scapegoats and summary trials.”
The current Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Gerhard Marx, will hold a news conference on Thursday to discuss the report’s findings.
(with information from AP)
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