Pressure is building on the Vatican to reveal more information about a priest accused of sexually molesting boys – specifically the extent to which Pope Benedict XVI, then an archbishop in Munich, may have known about the sex abuse.
“The future Pope Benedict XVI was kept more closely apprised of a sexual abuse case in Germany than previous church statements have suggested, raising fresh questions about his handling of a scandal unfolding under his direct supervision before he rose to the top of the church’s hierarchy,” the New York Times reported Friday.
“Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope and archbishop in Munich at the time, was copied on a memo that informed him that a priest, whom he had approved sending to therapy in 1980 to overcome pedophilia, would be returned to pastoral work within days of beginning psychiatric treatment,” the Times report states. “The priest was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish.”
Church officials were quick to rebut the report.
“The then archbishop had no knowledge of the decision to reassign [the priest] to pastoral activities in a parish,” the Vatican said in a statement on Friday, adding that it “rejects any other version of events as mere speculation.”
“We stand by our account that Cardinal Ratzinger didn’t know about this decision,” diocese spokesman Bernhard Kellner told the Reuters news agency. “An archbishop doesn’t read all the administrative acts. He just can’t. That’s why he has a vicar general.”
According to the Associated Press, "in his time as an archbishop in Germany, a cardinal at the Vatican and then after becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger has overseen at least four cases involving allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and church workers."
Meanwhile, the Legion of Christ, a Catholic religious order whose founder was revealed to have molested young seminarians, formally apologized Friday.
According to a Wall Street Journal report Saturday:
“After years of defending its founder, Marcial Maciel, the Legion fully repudiated Mr. Maciel, who died in 2008 at age 87, two years after Pope Benedict XVI forced him to retire to a “private life of penance and prayer.”
“We accept that, given the gravity of his faults, we cannot take his person as a model of Christian or priestly life,” the Legion statement said.
As reported by Reuters, Catholic churches in Europe rallied behind Pope Benedict on Friday, rejecting claims he had covered up child sex abuse by priests and praising him as a leader determined to combat scandals challenging the Church. “France’s bishops conference, the archbishop of London and the Munich archdiocese that Benedict once headed all rejected allegations from the media a day after the Vatican angrily accused its critics of an ‘ignoble attempt’ to smear him.”
But the National Catholic Reporter, in a long and very tough editorial, says “Nothing less than a full, personal and public accounting will begin to address the crisis that is engulfing the worldwide church.”
“We now face the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history,” editors for the respected independent news source on Catholic issues wrote. “How this crisis is handled by Benedict, what he says and does, how he responds and what remedies he seeks, will likely determine the future health of our church for decades, if not centuries, to come.”