What Did the Pope Know and When Did He Know It?

When I reported on the emerging Catholic sex-abuse scandal in Germany, it crossed my mind that the Pope is German. But I hadn’t ever imagined that he’d have any personal connection to the allegations and confessions now being made there.

Well, it looks like I was wrong:

A widening child sexual abuse inquiry in Europe has landed at the doorstep of Pope Benedict XVI, as a senior church official acknowledged Friday that a German archdiocese made “serious mistakes” in handling an abuse case while the pope served as its archbishop.

…a priest accused of molesting boys was given therapy in 1980 and later allowed to resume pastoral duties, before committing further abuses and being prosecuted. Pope Benedict, who at the time headed the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, approved the priest’s transfer for therapy. A subordinate took full responsibility for allowing the priest to later resume pastoral work, the archdiocese said in a statement.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but how does it exonerate the Pope to say that he wasn’t the one who allowed the accused priest to resume his duties? Shouldn’t a priest accused of sexual assault be turned over to the police, not assigned to therapy? Maybe the Catholic church has grown so used to behaving as if they’re above the law that this didn’t even occur to them, and thought the defense that they sent a sex predator to therapy should be perfectly sufficient.

In any case, I would be very surprised if there was any concrete evidence that the Pope allowed a known sex offender to resume his clerical position. If he did play a role in that decision, the church would most likely protect him by finding a subordinate to take the blame and fall on his sword. At least one source in the Times article thinks that’s just what happened here:

There was immediate skepticism that Benedict, as archbishop, would not have known of the details of the case.

The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, who once worked at the Vatican Embassy in Washington and became an early and well-known whistle-blower on sexual abuse in the church, said the vicar general’s claim was not credible.

“Nonsense,” said Father Doyle, who has served as an expert witness in sexual abuse lawsuits. “Pope Benedict is a micromanager. He’s the old style. Anything like that would necessarily have been brought to his attention. Tell the vicar general to find a better line. What he’s trying to do, obviously, is protect the pope.”

The Catholic church would obviously like to dismiss this whole vortex of scandal as a minor distraction from their really important work (such as telling AIDS-stricken Africans that condoms don’t prevent the spread of HIV). Unfortunately for them, the headlines haven’t been so cooperative, and we keep getting this steady drip of news that shows just how high in the church hierarchy the rot has spread. Just think – we’ve now reached a point where it’s completely plausible that the Pope himself was personally involved in the cover-up. (And that’s not even to mention the letter he wrote telling bishops to report allegations of abuse directly to Rome and keep them under a seal of pontifical secrecy.)

Clearly, what we need are some tape recorders in the walls of the Vatican. Maybe then we’d get a clearer idea of just how intimate Benedict’s involvement in this matter has been. The church has proven itself more than willing to deceive, lie, and dissemble: in the absence of such evidence, how can anything else that they say be believed?

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.

  • Katie M

    I wonder how many Catholics still think the Pope is infallible?

  • Rick M

    @ Katie M
    Probably not many. The RCC dogma on papal infallibity restricts itself to what is called ex cathedra lessons on faith and morals. It specifically states that a pope is not “impeccable”, that is incapable of sin or error.
    The RCC is like the military with a top-down authority structure. It will probably take an internal whistle-blower to publicize Ratzinger’s role both as archbishop and more importantly, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the various abuse coverups. Even with exposure there is no secular power to force him out of office.

  • keddaw

    There is no need for a secular power to force him out, simply revoke the Vatican’s status as a state thus removing diplomatic immunity and issue a warrant for his arrest should he travel to our country. The more countries that joined in this act the less influence he’d have.

  • Valhar2000

    I wish that were done, Keddaw, but you can rely on the masses of unthinking idiots the world over taking up arms in the defence of this guy, and, likely, offering more children of theirs for the priests to rape. So, nothing doing.

  • Rick M

    @ keddaw – did you say “simply revoke the Vatican’s status as a state”? Simply? More likely, the German government would have to first level charges against Ratzinger – and that, I think is highly unlikely absent an insider whistle blowing with some concrete evidence. After a formal indictment the Germans would need to convince other EU or UN nations to agree to his extradiction should he travel outside the Vatican or get the World Court involved. Not so simple.

  • penn

    In an article I read at the BBC the underling thrown under the bus claims the archbishop couldn’t have kept up with everything because there were over 1000 priests in the diocese at the time. Were so many of those 1000 priests accused of molestation that he couldn’t keep up with every one? I would think that would be a pretty big deal and something the archbishop would want to know about. Also, how messed up would be if something like covering up molestation would be considered so minor that a deputy would go ahead and do it on his own accord?

  • http://www.ceetar.com Ceetar

    I agree it doesn’t exonerate him. The bigger crime is hiding this guy in therepy, not readmitting a theoretically rehabilitated guy back into duty. (Although, maybe they should’ve kept a little closer eye on him? just in case? You know, just like you don’t make a ‘former’ alcohol in charge of getting beer for the party?)

    Also, was this a real therapist/doctor, or a church-sponsored guy?

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

    Also, was this a real therapist/doctor, or a church-sponsored guy?

    Good question. Probably the same one they keep handy to cure gays.

  • http://www.ceetar.com Ceetar

    Also, was this a real therapist/doctor, or a church-sponsored guy?

    Good question. Probably the same one they keep handy to cure gays.

    that’s what I was thinking too. Those guys have a big workload. May need a raise.

  • Tacroy

    (such as telling AIDS-stricken Africans that condoms don’t prevent the spread of HIV)

    Surely you mean, “telling AIDS-stricken Africans that condoms help spread HIV”? Because that’s what they did.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Surely you mean, “telling AIDS-stricken Africans that condoms help spread HIV”? Because that’s what they did.

    Yes, that’s what I meant. My thanks for the correction.

  • Richard P.

    Oh, it’s quite possible the archbishop couldn’t have kept up with everything.

    You know how god likes to micro manage… thoughts, sex, dinner… God probably just told the underling himself and forgot to CC. the archbishop.

    Yes, the rot does go to the top.

  • Caiphen

    To cover up in any way a terrible evil like this is despicable. It goes to show religion does not have a monopoly on decency. It seems it lacks it.

    To think, as a impressionable child I remember hearing that only those whom are christians are really decent.

  • KShep

    Clearly, what we need are some tape recorders in the walls of the Vatican. Maybe then we’d get a clearer idea of just how intimate Benedict’s involvement in this matter has been.

    Don’t these people think their gawd is listening in on their thoughts and conversations at all times?

    Maybe the Vatican has gawd-proof walls or something.

  • cag

    This is one of the reasons that the church wants to keep the parishioners ignorant. All the news the church wants them to hear has to be filtered and disseminated on Sunday. Most catholics will remain ignorant and loyal. The rational and knowing among us will give the pope and his lackeys the respect they have earned – none.

  • Paul S.

    Maybe the Vatican has gawd-proof walls or something.

    Maybe god-proof, but apparently not demon-proof!

  • Caiphen

    God commanded Israel to perform genocide in Deuteronomy c20 v16-17 because of the ‘evil’ ways of the potential victims being the Canaanites and other nations. Of course the Catholic Church isn’t evil at all and should instead be protected by God.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I was happy to notice today that both Ophelia Benson and Andrew Sullivan have made the same point I did: how does it excuse Ratzinger to say that he knew a priest was guilty of molestation and didn’t report that priest to the police?

    Sullivan, in his piece (which has a great Stevie Smith reference) also links to an article which shows just how precipitously the Vatican’s standing has declined in Ireland as a result of this scandal:

    One hundred and sixty priests died last year but only nine were ordained. Figures for nuns were even more dramatic, with the deaths of 228 nuns and only two taking final vows…

    The article also points out that the average age of an Irish priest is 61. This wicked, sanctimonious, arrogant church is literally withering on the vine, and the appalling criminal conspiracy to cover up the rape of children may be the last push they need to collapse into irrelevance. I can’t wait to see what develops in the next twenty years.

    Oh, yes: and the next Catholic priest child-rape scandal appears to be breaking in Brazil now.

  • Katie M

    Ebonmuse-I can’t wait either, with numbers like that.

  • Katie M

    And Brazil-isn’t that the same country where a nine-year-old girl was impregnated by her stepfather and her mother was excommunicated for arranging an abortion?

  • jemand

    you can’t imagine how *thrilled* I am that the scandal has finally spread to the third world! Brazil is reporting it? Obviously it *happened* everywhere, but I was afraid that they would be able to hide it behind the superstition and poverty of the third world as their last bastion of relevance and abuse. Perhaps not! Which makes me so happy.

  • Caiphen

    I had a terrible thought but an accurate one. For rationality’s sake let’s not underestimate Roman Catholicism, it has survived tougher challenges than atheism. Just look at history. Remember GWB’s comments on JP2 weren’t so long ago. The fact is that it has over 1/6th of the world’s population and has more influence than atheists do.

    I have to say, they’ll bounce back.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    As of 130pm PST NPR is reporting that the German portion of the scandal involves up to 120 priests. It thus seems entirely possible that Benedict wasn’t able to keep up, the poor thing. He should’ve appointed a Majordomo of Buggery or something.

    And Caiphen, I disagree. The blatant hypocrisy of the offenses, combined with the improved communications of our modern age, render this a problem even more dangerous that the Siege of Vienna or the Hundred Years’ War. They cannot control the means of info, and it enlists the world against them. It may not be soon, but the day will come when these parasites have nowhere left to turn.

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

    I have a dream. I have a dream that Ratzinger will be the first pope NOT to die in office.

  • Rudolf Zupan

    There is this book written by Otto von Corvin around 1848 in Germany, “Der Pfaffenspiegel”. It mentions some of the sins of the clergy. It was promptly put on the “Do not read” Index. Funny.

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

    The net is tightening on Ratzinger

  • Katie M

    Rudolf-is the Index still around? And if it is, is there a modern-day equivalent to “Der Pfaffenspiegel” on it?

  • Rudolf Z.

    Actually it was German Government Authorities that gave Corvin a bad time for his views.


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