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Today’s paper brings news that as the Archbishop of Munich, Pope Benedict knew more about the molester priest’s transfer than the Vatican has admitted. This should not be surprising; as the editor who ran the Boston Globe’s coverage of the U.S. scandal says:
I don’t know of any archdiocese where the archbishop or the cardinal archbishop was not kept fully informed and in most cases was not heavily involved in decision-making involving any priest who was accused of abusing minors. In every diocese in the U.S., including those headed by cardinals, there was personal knowledge by the cardinal archbishop when news of abuse surfaced. It was true in Boston, it was true in L.A., it was true in Chicago.
The fact we have one archbishop in Munich that claims not to know anything is enough to make one suspicious.
When I saw the story in today’s paper, I thought, oh no, here we go. It’s blood in the water time. Let me be clear: I say that as a journalistic judgment. You do not have to be ideologically committed to tearing down the Catholic Church to see a real story here. First the Official Story says one thing, then facts emerge showing that the Officials were not telling the whole truth … and this sets off a pursuit of the story that is not going to stop anytime soon, especially given the stakes. We know that many, probably most, journalists are unsympathetic to this pope. Nevertheless, given the facts as we now know them, it would be journalistic malpractice to turn away from the pursuit of this story. If the president of the United States denied or minimized his involvement in a scandal, then documents emerged indicating he was more culpable than he’d let on, no reporter worth his salt would fail to follow up.
Whatever your opinion of the media happens to be, the Pope now has a terrible problem on his hands, and there’s no telling how this thing is going to end. I would like to ask commenters to put aside their polemical positions and to suggest how he might solve it. I will insist that whichever side we’re on, we write with civility and restraint.
My thoughts below the jump:
What’s done cannot be undone. Benedict has gone much, much further than any other pope to address the real evil that was done by priests and bishops. It is unjust and inaccurate to portray him as a see-no-evil pontiff. He was late to the cause, but he came around. I think the best thing he can do now — indeed, possibly the only sensible thing — is to admit any role he had in transferring priests and failing to do the right thing by sex abuse victims. Explain these decisions in context of the times and the culture, but overall don’t be defensive, but rather be humble. Confess all, and be publicly penitent. Many people will scream condemnation at the pope and the Church, and much of that will have been deserved. But I think men and women of goodwill will appreciate a genuine attempt to come to terms with this evil situation, not by denying and stonewalling, but by admitting and asking forgiveness. The pope already has uttered some extraordinary words of regret, but I think people are looking for something more.
I believe that Benedict knew perfectly well what was happening with this pedophile priest, and probably every pedophile priest in his archdiocese. It would be very odd indeed if he did not, given the way these things were handled back then. In fact, this might well be the explanation for why he doesn’t move against bishops: because if he believes they must be removed for badly mishandling cases of clerical sex abuse, he risks condemning himself.
And yet, stonewalling does not work, not in our culture, not anymore. If there are more dark facts to come out of the Munich archdiocese, rest assured they will. Remember the ACORN story, and how brilliantly Breitbart’s people played it? They’d release one of those damning videos, wait for ACORN to say one bad apple shouldn’t cause people to condemn the whole organization … then Breitbart would release another damning video. And then another. Before long, ACORN’s credibility ceased to exist. And now, ACORN is on the verge of the same.
Obviously the Roman Catholic Church isn’t going to cease to exist, thank God. But it wasn’t promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it in all places. Benedict’s great hope for the renewal and rebirth of the Christian faith in Europe hangs in the balance — and this is not the fault of the Suddeutsche Zeitung, The New York Times, or anybody else but the Church.
This is a very imperfect solution, but what else is there? If you have a better idea, let’s hear it.
People who say the pope should resign are way off base. Popes don’t do that, and besides, are you really going to find another potential pope who didn’t participate in what was apparently a widespread practice re: shuffling around predator priests? Of course, as I said, if Benedict reassigns bad bishops, or accepts many resignations, it raises the question: if he did the same thing, why is he sending them down but not himself? It’s a hard question to answer.