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?

Kim Davis' Multiple Marriages Are Fair Game
I Get Religious Mail: Bibles, Not Peace
The Graying of the Priesthood, Continued
Sam Harris' Indefensible Views on Racial Profiling
About Adam Lee

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