A couple of weeks ago, my wife, Abby said to me, "I heard something bad about the pope today." Without even listening to what she had heard I told her that it was probably a bunch of bunk--and I'm not ever sure what "bunk" really means--but for the sake of this conversation, I'm going to assume it means "horse poop." I told her that there were some scandals that have been in the news and being mis-reported in the press. I've been asked by some others about the scandals and heard other disparaging remarks about Pope Benedict XVI so I thought I would write about what I know while keeping it relatively simple.
One of the scandals that has recently been published is about a priest in Munich who was removed from his position due to allegations of sexual abuse. He was later put back into a pastoral position and he went on to again commit acts of sexual abuse. Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, was archbishop of Munich which is where the the offense occurred and is where the priest was assigned so Cardinal Ratzinger was ultimately responsible for the assignment according to "the buck stops here" mindset. The rub is that, according to Cardinal Ratzinger's vicar general, Fr. Gerhard Gruber, the future pope trusted personal matters to subordinates and was not aware of the transfer. Yes, the argument could be made that Cardinal Ratzinger should have done whatever was necessary to ensure that the priest was not put back into a pastoral position but considering that Munich is one of the largest archdiocese in the world as well as handling other matters at the Vatican it is understandable that he would allow others people to handle personnel matters.
The second situation is one dealing with Fr. Murphy who was accused of sexually abusing boys at St John's School for the Deaf in the 1950's and 60's. He was removed from his position in the 70's when the accusations came to light but due to the details being sketchy no action was taken against him. Due to requests by several victims and advocacy groups, the matter was revisited in 1996. A section of the Holy Se called the "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" was consulted because Fr. Murphy was accused of making solicitations in the confessional. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was headed by Cardinal Ratzinger. The investigation and trial was being led by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee but before the matter could be dealt with Fr. Murphy died. There is an interesting article in the "Catholic Anchor" written by Fr. Thomas Brundage, who was the judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and oversaw the investigation, that can be found here.
Another incident that is starting to be talked about in the press is about a case that occurred in Arizona that took, according the Associated Press, twelve years from the time it was assigned to Cardinal Ratzinger until the time that the priest was removed from the priesthood. The fact of the matter is, the priest in question, Fr. Teta, was removed from his position in 1990. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took an active interest in the case during the time the trial took place because it also had allegations of solicitation in the confessional. But sex abuse cases were not the direct jurisdiction of the CDF. The priest was "laicized" or removed from the priesthood in 1997 but he appealed. Due to restructuring, which placed serious crimes under the jurisdiction of the CDF the appeals were delayed and it took until 2005 for Fr. Teta to be defrocked. The process certainly took a long time, but it should again be repeated that Fr. Teta had been relieved of pastoral duties in 1990 and the situation was not under the jurisdiction of Cardinal Ratzinger until 2001. An article on this incident can be found at the Catholic News Agency here.
Pope Benedict is taking a lot of heat for these scandals which is wrong. He had led the cause for reform in the church and ensuring that these abusive priests are removed from the priesthood. In 2001, sex abuse cases were placed under the jurisdiction of the CDF and Cardinal Raztinger started a change in the church were these scandals were brought to light and the priests were punished. As pope, he was met with victims of sexual abuse and started the path to healing.
It's been a decade since the sex abuse scandals in the church started coming to light. Since then, the Catholic Church has made huge advances in protecting children and it can be argued that the Catholic Church is now one of the safest places for children to be. There were only six reported cases of sexual abuse in the United States last year. Six cases too many--that is to be sure but a drastic improvement.
Why the sudden publicity about cases that took place decades ago and certainly before reforms were put into place? I think the Catholic Church will always be a target because she stands up and says that things are wrong that modern society should be okay. The church made itself a target by sweeping these monsters under the carpet when they did occur due to fear of scandal. It was only when the scandal broke that the church was forced to look at itself and make changes. Catholics continue to make the Church a target when, instead of defending the pope with facts, they try to make excuses like, "oh, many of these charges don't involve pedophilia because they involve teen age boys and pedophilia deals with pre-pubescent boys." Stop it with the semantics and just say that any abuse of a child, whether 8 years old or 16 is wrong.
The Roman Catholic Church has made great strides in protecting God's children and 98% of priests are good men who have been given a black eye by the other two percent. They deserve our admiration and respect just as Pope Benedict XVI deserves our support and prayers.