Q:Should Pope Benedict XVI be held responsible for the escalating scandals over clerical sexual abuse in Europe? Should he be investigated for cases of abuse that occurred under his watch as archbishop of Munich or as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer? Should the pope resign?
The question of whether Pope Benedict XVI should resign is, frankly, silly, because it assumes guilt where none has been proven or even credibly asserted. The New York Times story about then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s alleged prevention of sanctions against a horrible Milwaukee abuser has been exploded by the legal documents the Times itself posted on its Web site. The charge that Ratzinger, when archbishop of Munich, knowingly reassigned a dangerous predator to pastoral ministry has been flatly denied by both the archdiocese and the Vatican. Anyone who knows the elementary facts of the history of the Holy See’s handling of these cases over the last decade knows that Ratzinger was at the forefront of efforts to bring abusers to book, swiftly and decisively, and his recent letter to the Catholic Church in Ireland demonstrates beyond cavil that he is determined to continue those efforts, wherever they lead.
Some things have been proven over the past few weeks, however. Elementary journalistic standards have been put on hold, in order to try and paint the Pope as a protector of abusers and the Church as an international criminal conspiracy of abusers and their abetters. Vicious anti-Catholicism is, evidently, permissible in cartoons on the nation’s editorial pages. And contingent-fee lawyers with direct financial stakes in the outcome of U.S. abuse cases and in bringing the Vatican within the reach of American liability lawyer are, astonishingly, considered appropriate sources. In light of these revelations, perhaps some people should indeed resign; but that motley crew does not include Benedict XVI.
In my 2002 book, “The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church”, I publicly thanked the press for its exposure of facts that the Catholic Church ought to have faced itself, long before. But that was then and this is now, and the reporting and commentary now have been deeply biased and in many cases irresponsible. The Catholic Church in America today is likely the country’s safest environment for children. When will that empirically demonstrable fact find its way into this and other newspapers? Joseph Ratzinger has been more involved than any other senior churchman in confronting what he once called the “filth” in the Church; when might that fact, which any reporter with an open mind would be compelled to recognize by looking at the recent historical record, begin to frame some of the coverage of the Pope and the Church?