The Widening Vortex of Catholic Scandal

The Widening Vortex of Catholic Scandal March 30, 2010

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.

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