The Widening Vortex of Catholic Scandal

Lately, it seems that no matter how often I write about the ever-widening story of Roman Catholic bishops and the Pope protecting child molesters, new details keep bubbling up that demand another update. Well, I’m happy to oblige.

Here’s what we know so far. Pope Benedict XVI, back in the late 1970s when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and archbishop of Munich, had authority over a priest, Rev. Peter Hullermann, who was known to be a child molester. At least three sets of parents had come to officials of the diocese to tell them that their sons had been sexually abused by Hullermann, including one case where he forced an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him. In response, Ratzinger assigned Hullermann to undergo therapy – without, I hasten to add, reporting him to the police for prosecution. Hullermann did finish the therapy, but to no apparent effect. A subordinate of Ratzinger’s, Rev. Gerhard Gruber, approved Hullermann’s return to pastoral work early in 1980. Several years later, he was convicted on molestation charges stemming from yet another such incident, and additional allegations from as recently as 1998 have come to light.

None of these facts are disputed. The Vatican’s defense all along has been that the future Pope had no knowledge that Hullermann had been permitted to resume his duties (although the admission that he sent a child molester to therapy and then washed his hands of the matter, all by itself, paints him in a poor light). But we now know that even this flimsy defense is false: according to a report from the New York Times, Gruber copied Ratzinger’s office on the memo stating that Hullermann was being allowed to resume his duties. This memo was written just five days after Hullermann had been sent to therapy.

This horrendous scandal is custom-made for the lawyer’s phrase “knew or should have known”. Even if Benedict ignored the memo that was sent to him – which seems unlikely, considering his reputation as a micromanager – how can it possibly be a defense to say that he didn’t care enough to follow up on what had become of a known pedophile within the clergy? Hullermann was under his jurisdiction, and Hullermann’s actions are therefore, inevitably, his responsibility.

As Ratzinger rose through the ranks, he continued to be involved with pedophilia cases, and the pattern of defending the predators at the expense of the children is clearly evident. In a case from America, another priest, Rev. Lawrence Murphy, was accused of molesting as many as 200 boys at a school for the deaf. Milwaukee’s archbishop wrote directly to Ratzinger, who by that time was head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, requesting that his office look into the matter and consider an ecclesiastical trial. Ratzinger ignored these letters. When a different Vatican official ordered that a trial be held, the pedophile wrote to Ratzinger requesting mercy – and the trial was canceled!

Finally, there’s De Delictis Gravioribus, a letter that Ratzinger wrote to all Catholic bishops in 2001 advising them how to handle pedophilia accusations. The most important point is that bishops report such cases to the Vatican in the strictest secrecy and tell no one else about them without permission from the Pope – or as Ratzinger put it, “Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret.” As before, there was no instruction to the bishops to report any credible accusations of molestation to the civil authorities. (See also.)

Contrary to the Vatican’s nonspecific denials, it’s clear that Ratzinger is not only personally involved in the Catholic pedophilia scandal, he’s as tainted as any of the bishops who kept these cases under wraps. He, too, is guilty of participating in the Catholic hierarchy’s shell game that shuffled predators from parish to parish while pressuring past victims to keep silent, ensuring that more children were raped and molested. He, too, is complicit in the church’s damnable crime of trying to protect its own reputation above all else, even at the expense of countless shattered lives.

Doubtless, many faithful Catholics will refuse to accept this. The threat to their self-image, to their entire worldview, would be too great if they were to accept that the Pope himself – the heir of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the man they believe to be literally infallible when making pronouncements on faith or morals – was directly involved and complicit in the systematic rape of children. (Credit goes to a few rare exceptions, like the National Catholic Reporter, which demanded that the Pope take direct questions about his responsibility in the matter.)

But for the rest of us, the evidence is damning, and the conclusion is clear. The Catholic church is a den of gilded hypocrites, and it’s now being led by the worst hypocrite of them all. All their pomp and pageantry can’t conceal the revolting evil which they helped to perpetuate. They are guilty, guilty, guilty – and they deserve not the smallest iota of our sympathy or our support. Those who enabled and covered up these acts ought to be prosecuted and punished like the criminals they are – and those who merely defended the guilty ought to be treated as having forever forsaken whatever credibility or moral authority they ever had.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • penn

    I think one of the biggest indictments (there are quite a few) against them is how quickly they turn into martyrs over this whole thing. How many Cardinals and Bishops have come out decrying the persecution of the Pope and the Church? The Archbishop of New York likened criticizing and questioning the Pope in the press to the tribulations of Christ! If they were half as outraged over pedophiles in their ranks there wouldn’t be any problems at all.

  • Rick M

    The National Catholic Reporter article is a strong demand for accountability from a sympathetic organization.

    In the last decade the story has not gone away. Rather it has continuously reared its head in nation after nation, especially in those countries with a free press and independent judicial system. A dominant characteristic of this story is that where and when it has emerged it has done so without the aid of church hierarchy. To the contrary, it has taken lawsuit after lawsuit, investigative report after investigative report, to bring this horrendous story to necessary light.

    We have to assume that new incidences of this scandal will be revealed in South America, Carribean, Far East, and other countries where there are Catholic institutions.

  • Rick M

    Off Topic – I tried to edit my comment – to correct “Carribean” to Caribbean – but the edit window won’t “stand still” constantly scrolling back to the beginning of the post.

  • Dan

    This horrendous scandal is custom-made for the lawyer’s phrase “knew or should have known”.

    So will there be a courageous German or Irish prosecutor who will compel the pope to testify what he knew or should have known? The thought of an Interpol warrant for Benny’s arrest is too delicious to contemplate.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I know this has been linked to before but.. If you’re British please sign this petition to stop the RATzinger from officially visiting the U.K (unless we can arrange for an international arrest warrant first)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Wow, does Pope Indulgence have a great knack for public relations, or what? On Sunday, he dismissed discussion of his personal role in several pedophile priest cases as petty gossip.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Isn’t Vatican City a sovereign nation? I wonder what would happen, should some nation declare war on it…

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I assume the Pope would lob the holy hand grenade of antioch at them.

  • Zietlos

    Sigh… We poke fun, but… It is kinda depressing, ain’t it?

    “It’s a shame laws don’t apply to rich people, otherwise we could have just called the police on him.”

    Counts: Obstruction of justice. Aide in a crime. Professional negligence. Nonprofessional negligence. Harboring of criminals. Theft. Broken contracts. Contempt of Court. Breaking of the Geneva Convention for crimes against humanity as leader of a nation. And blasphemy, some people don’t agree with his thoughts, so why not while we’re here? And I dunno, it probably has WMDs too in the Vatican, why not?

    But that’ll never happen. None of those accusations will happen, because he’s a despot. Ah well.

  • XPK

    How about economic sanctions against the Vatican?

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com Spanish Inquisitor

    Chief Apologist Bill Donahue claims that liberalism is at fault. He says that if it was him, he would have come down hard on the German priest, but all those goddamned libruls thought therapy was best, so therapy is what he got. Not Ratzi’s fault the therapy failed.

    Damn. If only Hitler was in charge. Things got done when he was around.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Damn. If only Hitler was in charge. Things got done when he was around.
    – Spanish Inquisitor, #11

    Y’know, the thing of it is, I can think of a couple popes who’d probaby agree with you.

    Sigh… We poke fun, but… It is kinda depressing, ain’t it?
    – Zietlos, #9

    We poke fun because it is depressing. Humor is one well-respected way to deal with the absurdity of reality. But yes, it is very, very depressing, and infuriating, and staggering, and tiresome, and a whole host of other unpleasant adjectives.

  • http://prenerk.wordpress.com Prenerk

    I’m so glad I left that church years ago. If I still believed in the supernatural, I’d have to start thinking that satan himself was involved. I mean, raping 200 deaf boys? I have a hard time thinking of anything more evil, but sadly, that sickness is just a drop in the bucket with the catholic church.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    AAAAAAaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrghh!

  • Katie M

    I’m with SuperHappyJen.

  • David D.G.

    The Vatican’s defense all along has been that the future Pope had no knowledge that Hullermann had been permitted to resume his duties (although the admission that he sent a child molester to therapy and then washed his hands of the matter, all by itself, paints him in a poor light).

    Beautifully ironic biblical allusion, Ebon, and right on target. This “Vicar of Christ” has more in common with Pontius Pilate than with Jesus of Nazareth.

    ~David D.G.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Chief Apologist Bill Donahue claims that liberalism is at fault.

    And the Pope blames secularism. If you have’nt read it yet, here’s the Pope’s letter to the Irish recently read out in Churches around the country. Part of which says:

    In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values.

    So you see it’s not the Church’s fault at all, what we need is less of that accursed secularism (BTW why does the Pope spell with Z’s like an American not S’s like what your supposed to?)

  • Eurekus

    I have to say, Catholicism will survive this. Why? If it can survive Pope Urban’s order 1000 years ago to commence the crusades it can survive anything. I find it amazing that Catholics, to keep their worldview, prefer a good dose of official church bullshit over the truth. But I guess I shouldn’t find it amazing since bullshit is at the heart of all faith.

  • Scotlyn

    The pope’s letter to the Irish is nicely deconstructed here. Of key interest is this weasel phrase, addressed to Irish bishops:

    Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse, continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence.

    The pope clearly takes a dim view of what the “area of competence” of the civil authorities actually is, and is basically still saying to bishops, as he ever was – that they are bound to “fully implement” a higher law which trumps it.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Oh, Steve… I’m so sorry, but I have to…

    (BTW why does the Pope spell with Z’s like an American not S’s like what your supposed to?)

    [pedant]Probably for the same reason behind your use of a possessive where you’re supposed to put a contraction. Also, they’re washing their cars over there. And I should take my pedantry down from eight to two, too.[/pedant]

  • Libby

    *Prints articles to present to Theology teacher*

    Class should be fun tomorrow morning.

  • Jennifer

    I am reminded of the book cover Greta Christina likes to post: “Mistakes were made, but not by me.” That’s Ratzinger’s case in a nutshell.

  • Penguin_Factory

    To be honest, as much as a fuss is being kicked up over this, the controversy should be greater than it is. The very fact that someone who molested children wasn’t handed over to the police immediately should have people taking to the streets and screaming for blood. Over here in Ireland there’s a new scandal in the newspapers every day whenever the government does something bone headed, but we’re not getting the same level of protest at the Church. Not to imply the papers are afraid to take a swipe at the pope or anything, they just seem apathetic over the whole affair. I guess anti-government sentiment sells more copies than anti-religious sentiment.

    This also reminds me, last week I got my hands on a copy of this god awful ultra-catholic newspaper some people read here, and it had this hilarious section that was supposed to be written by Satan to a lesser demon over how he’s secularizing society and destroying christianity (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds). The topic for that issue was how people were turning into sexual deviants. I think the irony speaks for itself.

  • http://unreligiousright.blogspot.com/ UNRR

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 3/31/2010, at The Unreligious Right

  • ComplexStuff

    The Catholic church is a den of gilded hypocrites, and it’s now being led by the worst hypocrite of them all.

    - The Pope isn’t any better or any worse than anybody else caught up in this scandal. They’re all members of the same rotten institution. Still, to see the Pope arrested would be awesome. Would some sort of citizen’s arrest be possible? Or is there a very very brave policeman out there willing to issue an arrest warrant, not as a publicity stunt, but as a serious attempt to blow the lid of the whole scandal? The Pope may be the elected head of the Catholic church, but members from top to bottom seem to almost universally believe this is an ‘in-house’ problem – that they are above the law.

  • Alex Weaver

    Still, to see the Pope arrested would be awesome. Would some sort of citizen’s arrest be possible?

    The pope is a head of state, and hence a head of a government, and hence legally responsible for the policies carried out by that government. According to Wikipedia, the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum defines Crimes Against Humanity as

    particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape and political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion.

    Emphasis added.

    (Notably, while the Nuremberg Charter explicitly limits the charges to acts during wartime, the current understanding does not appear to).

  • Katie M

    Sounds like Ratzinger is responsible for crimes against humanity.

    Just found this story-http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125380037&sc=fb&cc=fp

  • http://edivimo.wordpress.com edivimo

    Excellent note, can I translate it to spanish?

  • http://brazilbrat.blogspot.com/ James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil

    It’s very clear that the pope and many other bishops and cardinals are “accessories after the fact”. They knew of crimes being committed and did nothing. (just like their “god”) Even worse, they helped conceal these crimes. When are they going to be arrested and charged? If it were up to me, they would all be serving time right now.

  • Stephen P

    And here’s yet another one. This time it’s the bishop of Augsburg:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article7082705.ece

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    edivimo: Yes, you’re welcome to translate this if you want.

    So will there be a courageous German or Irish prosecutor who will compel the pope to testify what he knew or should have known? The thought of an Interpol warrant for Benny’s arrest is too delicious to contemplate.

    I would be overjoyed to see Ratzinger compelled to testify at the very least, though I recognize that the chance of anything like that actually happening is somewhere between zero and none. Even Bernard Law, whom we know participated in covering up child rape, is safe and sound in Vatican City serving out a sinecure as reward for his loyalty to the Pope, and no one seems especially interested in pushing to have him extradited. Nor would they give him up, I’m sure.

    The Pope isn’t any better or any worse than anybody else caught up in this scandal. They’re all members of the same rotten institution.

    I disagree with that, ComplexStuff. The Pope is more culpable precisely because he has the power to order the church’s files be thrown open to the civil authorities, and because he has the power to actually punish the people who covered up child molestation, and he’s done neither of those things. Not to mention his letter to Ireland about the scandal, where he acted shocked as if this was the first time he had heard about all this.

  • paradoctor

    It wasn’t just the crime, or just the cover-up; it was the combination. Had the hierarchy been covering up some serious-but-abstract crime like financial chicanery, then the specialists would scream but most people would just shrug. And had the hierarchy handed the pedophile priests over to the authorities, then the damage would have been contained. The child abuse offends the emotions; the secrecy offends the intellect.

    By the way, the word “hierarchy” reminds me of the Peter Principle; “every employee in a hierarchy tends to rise to his level of incompetence”. How topical! If the hierarchy had _competently_ covered up (by, say, forbidding the pedophile priests from approaching children ever again) then again the damage would have been contained.

    Such incompetence is a clear instance of Papal fallibility.

  • Durel Wiley

    In the Philippines the catholic church has an incredible amount of influence over the government. It is one of the most corrupt countries on earth. A son of a prominent family, involved in the electric utilities, became a priest. He traveled to the United States, where, eventually, he was caught in a hotel room with a 12 year old boy, and cocaine. He was deported to the Philippines, where he became a monseignor, was given an appointment as and assistant to the cardinal in Manila. His name is Cardinal Sin, appropriately enough. Sooner or later there will be a whole lot of revelations from this pitiful country about pedophelia among the clergy and at the many catholic boarding schools scattered around the islands. I am sure similar stories will come from many countries around the world. Wherever people actually care about the abuse of the vulnerable and innocent.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    and more good news happy easter

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Steve, the bummer is that given the status of the Vatican as a sovereign state, the local apparatus will likely be unable to bring charges.

    Who knows how we can change, or circumvent, this? Let’s have ideas as well as news.

    eta: Also, that’s a helluva blog you’ve got going.

  • Jimbo

    There are many sides to this terrible problem.

    But to set and do nothing is a crime in my books. A criminal should be tried and sentenced to do time.

    To set back and say or do nothing makes you as guilty as the person preforming the act.

    The Priests, Archbishops and the Pope are men and should answer as men to society.

  • daniel

    Did not Jesus says Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Commiting a crime against another person is a criminal matter, in the hands of the State and thus is a “thing of Caesar.” But no, the Church was specifically ordered to not hand such things over to the authorities for prosecution under “Caesar’s” law (law of the land).

    Friggin’ hypocrites.

  • ComplexStuff

    @Ebonmuse
    You said:

    The Pope is more culpable precisely because he has the power to order the church’s files be thrown open to the civil authorities, and because he has the power to actually punish the people who covered up child molestation, and he’s done neither of those things.

    I understand why you say that (and, as always, find your argument well reasoned), but in this case I still cannot agree. In each case of abuse, it would only have taken one whistle-blower to inform the police and have the suspected abuser, at the least, investigated. Whistle-blowing is an individual action taken as a matter of conscience. It need not come from the top, and it appears that not a single member of the church’s hierarchy, at any level, felt that conscience. Yes, Ratzinger failed to act. Yes, he has risen to the top (I like the ‘scum on a pond’ analogy); but he is still just one of many who could have blown the whistle, but didn’t. Whilst I maintain it would be fantastic to see him arrested, Ratzinger shouldn’t be allowed to become a scapegoat (and to the faithful, no doubt, a martyr) when the entire institution of the church, from top to bottom, should be discredited, dismantled and dismissed as the self-serving, medieval control mechanism that it is.

  • Brightfox

    For any readers who were baptized catholic but who no longer are practicing or who have denounced the church altogether, it may surprise you to know that in demographic surveys on religion, you are still counted as catholic! Why? Because the baptismal records in each diocese is used to count the number of catholics. And I thought that I was excommunicated as soon as I “signed the book” at my first Unitarian church! My sister, who was molested by a priest at a catholic summer camp, found out that you actually have to formally defect from the church in order to not be counted. So, she sent an email to the diocese where she was baptized stating that she no longer wanted to be a catholic, had not lived as a catholic for many years, and understands the (theological) implications of defection. Noting which parish you were baptized in also helps. I am seriously considering defection myself; the difficulty is mainly psychological as defection cannot be taken back once you perform it. Perhaps a spate of these defections might – just might – show the church that people are truly & seriously disgusted by the sex abuse scandal.

  • DaveV
  • Thumpalumpacus

    I am seriously considering defection myself; the difficulty is mainly psychological as defection cannot be taken back once you perform it.

    Shades of Stalinism, there.

  • Scotlyn

    For pros and cons and instructions on how to defect from the Catholic church – this site is excellent. However, national censuses also ask questions about people’s religion, and it is important that people answer these questions according to their conscience. The next Irish census will take place in 2011, and some of us are campaigning for people to avoid naming themselves Catholic unless they have a true belief in the Church’s teachings. There are a large number of “nominal” Catholics – if some proportion of them (most of whom are “nominal” enough not to want to bother defecting) simply decide not to call themselves Catholic on the census, it may weaken the Church’s influence here.

  • John Nernoff

    The root of this problem is the denial to priests of a normal outlet for the satisfaction of sexual desires. Why celibacy? Jesus wasn’t married? Jesus didn’t have sex (or at least mention of it). He hung out with 12 male apostles?

    What’s the Catholic rationale for this cruel practice?

    Mind you I am not excusing that pedophile behavior, but what is the psycho/social cultural reason for it?

    I haven’t seen any address this?

  • http://graygoosegosling.com craig gosling

    I just discovered your web sight and immediately book marked it. Thanks for bringing this criminal Catholic policy to public attention. I am amazed that Catholics have not boycotted or brought more pressure against their church.


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