Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 22, 2010
Vatican defends pope's efforts to curb sexual abuse
Ratzinger not involved in 1980 Munich decision to put abuser priest back into ministry
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - Amid new disclosures of priestly sex abuse cases in Europe, including one in the German archdiocese formerly headed by Pope Benedict, the Vatican strongly defended the Church's response to the crisis.
The pope has led the effort to root out "filth" in the Church, said a Vatican statement.
The Vatican statements came in the wake of hundreds of new sex abuse allegations against priests and other Church personnel that have surfaced in recent weeks in Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland.
The pope met with top German bishops March 12 and encouraged them to move ahead "with decision and courage" in investigating the widening scandal of sexual abuse of minors in Catholic schools, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, the head of the German bishops' conference, told reporters.
Later the same day, the Vatican responded to a report that a German priest accused of sexually abusing a child had been allowed to return to pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising in the early 1980s, at the time Pope Benedict was archbishop there.
The Vatican press office noted the official who had returned the priest to ministry had taken "full responsibility" for his "serious error," and said the future pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was not involved in that decision.
In 1985, three years after Ratzinger had been called to serve as the Vatican's chief doctrinal official, the same German priest faced new accusations of sexual abuse, and was eventually suspended from the priesthood and convicted in a civil court.
The revelations about the German case made headlines around the world, and some commentators questioned how Ratzinger could not have been aware of details of the situation at the time.
On March 13, the Vatican countered by strongly defending the pope against what it said was an aggressive campaign to drag him personally into the widening sex abuse scandal.
"It is evident that over recent days some people have sought, with considerable persistence, . . . elements that could personally involve the holy father in questions of abuse. To any objective observer, it is clear that these efforts have failed," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said in a written commentary.
The same day, the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, ran a front-page article under the headline: "The severity of Benedict XVI against the filth in the Church." It said Pope Benedict was being mischaracterized as an aloof administrator with little interest in the scandal, when in fact the German pontiff had led the way in addressing past cases and preventing new ones.
"It is thanks to the greater severity of the pope that various bishops' conferences are turning a light on cases of sexual abuse, and also cooperating with civil authorities so that justice is rendered to the victims," it said.
In an unusual interview on March 13, a key Vatican official described in detail the steps taken by the Vatican to confront priestly sex abuse since 2001, the year the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Ratzinger, laid out strict new norms for processing such cases.
The official, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, a doctrinal congregation official who deals directly with cases of priests accused of abuse of minors, told the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire that the allegation that Pope Benedict had covered up sex abuse crimes was "false and calumnious."
Scicluna emphasized that the Vatican's insistence on secrecy in the investigation of these cases by Church authorities does not mean bishops or others are exempt from reporting these crimes to civil authorities.
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