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Updated at 2:45 p.m. EST with more links.

The New York Times has a big story today that looks into how Pope Benedict, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, handled clergy abuse claims as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. One problem is that, until Pope John Paul II clarified the matter in 2001, there were decades of confusion over whether the church’s canon law gave this office direct oversight of such matters.

The New York Times concludes the office has had that authority since 1922, however. An excerpt:

But the future pope, it is now clear, was also part of a culture of nonresponsibility, denial, legalistic foot-dragging and outright obstruction. More than any top Vatican official other than John Paul, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who might have taken decisive action in the 1990s to prevent the scandal from metastasizing in country after country, growing to such proportions that it now threatens to consume his own papacy.

Another point the story makes is that Ratzinger and his office prioritized other matters, such as investigating alleged sightings of the Virgin Mary and dealing with the declining numbers of priests, while failing to grasp the severity of the abuse problem.

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, one of GetReligion’s contributors, calls this a “hit piece.” It’s also being blasted by National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters; but the same outlet’s Tom Roberts calls the piece a “valuable contribution to the record on sex abuse crisis.”

(I’ll add more links to reactions throughout the next few days; check back for updates.)

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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