Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 5, 2010
Clerical allies rally to pope's defense
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - The Vatican and other Church officials have amplified their defence of Pope Benedict and his decisions regarding priestly sex abuse, and rejected accusations of a continued cover-up of such crimes.
After a series of reports in the New York Times and other media criticizing the pope for alleged "inaction" on sex abuse cases, Vatican authorities emphasized that it was the pope who, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, pushed for harsher measures against abusers and made it easier for the Church to defrock them.
On March 27, the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, ran the full texts of two landmark documents that in 2001 placed the sexual abuse of minors by priests among the most grave sins, and established that allegations be handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Ratzinger.
The same day, the newspaper ran a front-page commentary by British Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster that had appeared in the Times of London, expressing shame over priestly sex abuse but strongly defending the pope's efforts to curb it.
"What of the role of Pope Benedict? When he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he led important changes made in Church law: the inclusion in canon law of Internet offences against children, the extension of child abuse offenses to include the sexual abuse of all under 18, the case by case waiving of the statute of limitations and the establishment of a fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders," Nichols wrote.
"He is not an idle observer. His actions speak as well as his words."
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the recent media focus on the sex abuse cases and the way they were dealt with by the hierarchy comes as no surprise.
"The nature of the question is such as to attract the attention of the media, and the way in which the Church deals with it is crucial for her moral credibility," he said in a commentary on Vatican Radio.
But Lombardi pointed to the "many positive signals" that indicate the Church has understood the problem and addressed it. For example, he said, a recent report showed that the number of reported sex abuse cases declined between 33 and 36 per cent in U.S. dioceses and religious institutes between 2008 and 2009.
"It must be recognized that the decisive measures currently being implemented are proving effective: the Church in the United States is on the right road to renewal," he said.
ROOT OUT ABUSE
Lombardi said impartial observers would recognize that the pope and the doctrinal congregation are continuing to guide bishops and help them "combat and root out the blight of abuse wherever it appears."
The pope's strongly worded letter to Irish Catholics earlier this month demonstrated his commitment to "healing, renewal and reparation" in the Church, he said.
German Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's top ecumenical official, said the pope's letter to Irish Catholics was "courageous." It indicated that the Church was on an "irreversible" path toward greater transparency and severity in dealing with sex abuse by priests, the cardinal told the newspaper Corriere della Sera March 27.
Pope Benedict has never tried to protect abusers and the criticism aimed at him is really an attack on the Church itself, Kasper said.
"He was the first who, even as a cardinal, felt the need for new and stricter rules, which didn't exist before. That some newspapers are now using terrible cases to attack the pope head-on is something that goes beyond every limit of justice and fairness," he said.
The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Pierre Morissette of Saint-Jerome, wrote to Pope Benedict "to assure you of our unequivocal support" in the light of media reports that claimed the pope has not responded properly to clergy sexual abuse.
"We recognize with admiration and gratitude that your personal leadership in the face of these heinous crimes has been strong and decisive," Morissette said in the March 29 letter.
French bishops, assembled at their annual spring meeting, sent a "message of support" to Pope Benedict, saying they were with him "in the difficult period our Church is going through."
Italian Archbishop Giuseppe Betori of Florence told Vatican Radio March 26 that the media was manipulating information in order to falsely accuse the pope of inaction on sex abuse.
Betori said he had dealt directly with the doctrinal congregation under Ratzinger on abuse allegations, and found that the congregation demonstrated "the maximum attention and the maximum severity."
In a March 30 statement, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voiced concern for victims of clergy sexual abuse while offering praise for Pope Benedict's long-standing leadership in dealing with abuse cases.
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