Rod Dreher

Having been away from the keys most of the day, I want to post an important update to the commentary on the Catholic sex abuse scandal and Pope Benedict’s response. The journalist John Allen has provided one of his typically well-informed pieces explaining what we know and don’t know about Benedict and his response. From the opening:

Despite complaints in some quarters that all this is about wounding the pope and/or the church, raising these questions is entirely legitimate. Anyone involved in church leadership at the most senior levels for as long as Benedict XVI inevitably bears some responsibility for the present mess. My newspaper, the National Catholic Reporter, today called editorially for full disclosure about the pope’s record, and it now seems abundantly clear that only such transparency can resolve the hard questions facing Benedict.
Yet as always, the first casualty of any crisis is perspective. There are at least three aspects of Benedict’s record on the sexual abuse crisis which are being misconstrued, or at least sloppily characterized, in today’s discussion. Bringing clarity to these points is not a matter of excusing the pope, but rather of trying to understand accurately how we got where we are.

The facts, as Allen reports them (and I trust him), put Benedict in a better light — though, as Allen says, the questions people are asking are entirely legitimate.
I think the conservative Catholic writer Lee Podles, who wrote a searing book about the scandal, “Sacrilege,” has a wise assessment of the current moment, remaining focused on the fact that the real victims here are … the victims of clerical sexual abuse. Excerpt:

We are witnessing a cruel irony of history: Joseph Ratzinger, one of the few ecclesiastics to evidence genuine horror at the sexual abuse of children by priests and the one pope since perhaps Pius V to act against corruption in the Church, is receiving a massive international attack for his failures in handling abuse cases.
It is not entirely undeserved. Ratzinger worked within the system and accepted how it handled sexual abusers: treatment and secrecy, and no regard for the victims. He seems to have come to a genuine awakening and determined to do change the Church once he became pope, and he did immediately act against abusers, such as Maciel, whom John Paul had protected.
But Ratzinger too had failed to protect children, chiefly through negligence.


Even if the abuser repents (and which ones ever have?) the harm to the victim remains, and can never really be undone. It must be atoned for – but atonement, expiation, has vanished from the Catholic mind, and has even been explicitly rejected by the head of the German bishops’ conference. Of course, because otherwise the bishops and the pope would have much to atone for, and atonement is humiliating and painful, and bishops and popes do not like to be humiliated.

I should add that Lee is a friend. I talked to him while he was reporting “Sacrilege,” and the things he uncovered in interviews and official documents beggar description. I mean that literally: the depravity and hatred for children here, and the desire to protect these clerics at all cost, is hard to fathom. It is a heavy burden to have this knowledge. Most people don’t want to know what really happened, even still. Lee’s book is very hard to read — I couldn’t get through it, because it made me too emotional and enraged — because he doesn’t hold back on describing exactly what happened.
I strongly urge you to read Bill Cork’s lengthy, detailed and positive review of Lee’s book. Keep in mind that Lee is an orthodox Catholic who, despite uncovering unspeakable evil, remains in the Church.
This whole thing is beyond depressing. It feels as if we’re headed to dark times all around.
UPDATE: The Legionaries of Christ have finally admitted that Maciel, their founder, was a child molester. It must be emphasized, as is pointed out in this story, that Cardinal Ratzinger unleashed Msgr. Scicluna on him in 2004 — during a weakened John Paul’s last year. I can’t prove it, of course, but I believe Cdl. Ratzinger had been somewhat radicalized (by Vatican standards) by the US scandal, and as soon as the pontiff was too weak to protect Maciel anymore, he moved against the old pervert and his powerful order. Anybody who says Benedict is no different from John Paul in these matters simply hasn’t been paying attention.

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