Dragging Benedict into Germany’s abuse scandal

As new clergy sex-abuse allegations come to light in Germany, some in the media seem eager to tie them in whatever way possible to the German pontiff. Damian Thompson of the Telegraph points to a Times headline — “Pope knew priest was paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry” — as just one of the more egregious examples of misleading news reports on the story:

The then Archbishop Ratzinger allowed a priest accused of sexual offences from another diocese to go into retreat in Munich while he received counselling; he knew nothing of the decision to put the priest into ministry and by the time the priest was accused of further offences, Cardinal Ratzinger had been in Rome for years.

The German Church handled this very badly, no doubt; but it was not Joseph Ratzinger’s fault and the headline is (excuse the shouting) NOT TRUE.

Of course, explaining all that doesn’t help move papers. But over at CNN, John Allen says that the Vatican probably hasn’t seen the end of this particular media frenzy:

[T]he story is potentially damaging to the pontiff for at least two reasons.

First, this may not be the only case from the five years when Benedict was archbishop of Munich. When similar scandals have erupted in other parts of the world, one report or one accusation typically breeds others. If revelations emerge in drips and drabs about other abuser priests from the years Benedict was archbishop, it could tie his papacy down fighting public relations battles for some time to come.

Second, if other cases come to light, they could damage the pope’s ability to resolve what many observers regard as the principal unfinished business of the crisis [i.e., holding accountable the bishops who presided over abusive priests].

Potential allegations don’t even have to be particularly well-founded to redound negatively on Benedict, as the Times headline shows. Sadly, for some in the media, concrete evidence isn’t necessary to condemn the pope — speculation and insinuation will do.


Margaret Cabaniss


Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

  • Mena

    This “scandal” has been politically driven all along, and the sooner the Bishops begin saying so the better.

    The percentage of priests who have done these despicable acts is very, very small. In addition, it’s not like these things are happening only among Catholics–protestants and public schools have as many or more incidents.

    The goal of this constant negative PR is to weaken and destroy the Church by slander and lawsuits so that secular progressives can advance their immoral social agenda without obstacle.

    This is a powerful anti-religion legal lobby at work to destroy the Church and take the money of our parishes.

    Catholics must unite and oppose these political attacks on our people.

  • Mere Catholic

    I agree with the basic premise that there is nothing yet that implicates Pope Benedict XVI in the scandal in Germany. That being said, and with all due respect to Mena, I hope faithful Catholics- of which I strive to be one- stop taking such a defensive attitude towards priestly abuse in the Church. Of course abuse happens everywhere, including as in Mena’s example– public schools. But public schools don’t claim that membership in their institution is necessary for salvation. The Catholic Church makes moral claims in the name of Christ like no other public or religious organization. When her clergy victimize children, and when her bishops passively or actively allow such abuse to take place, it erodes confidence in a particular way. Is some of the attention on the Church political? Surely, it is. The hypocrisy inherent in the response to Roman Polanski would say it is. But without the Boston Globe or the Hartford Courant, the evil in the Boston Archdiocese or within the Legion of Christ, respectively, would not have come to light as quickly as it did. And why is that? Because it is clear that some Bishops were decidedly better publicists than shepherds and that for some them the protection of their office superseded the protection of children.

  • Austin

    Does the secular media have an agenda and are out to get the Church? Yes, indeed! Is the percentage of priests who molest young people a very small percentage of the total, actually less than public schools teachers? Yes, indeed! That being said, did some Bishops really botch handling these problems in the past? Sadly, yes indeed.

    Defend the Church against unfair attacks, but demand accountability from the Bishops. No more blank checks.
    The truth must be told, painful though it may be at times.

  • Mena

    Wake up, fellow Catholics. We’re being attacked hard (and unfairly).

    Powerful secular progressives are using dirty tactics to (1) steal billions from our parishes and (2) discredit and silence the Church so that she no longer has her power on issues like abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, and other moral fights of our time.

    This is a war, and we’re being targeted for destruction by powerful political groups and forces. They are taking advantage of this abuse issue, which is not a “catholic issue” per se. They are making it the means by which they sue and smear us to death. They have already bilked us of billions in the U.S. alone.

    Wake up Austin and Mere Catholic. The culture war is a real war, only it doesn’t use guns and tanks to destroy organizations and countries.

    Defend our Bishops and Pope. Defend our people. Defend our religion. We’ve apologized enough and made 1,000 times the just reparations. Now is the time to defend our Faith.

  • Austin

    Defend Cardinal Law, Cardinal Mahoney? No. Never. They got off easy. Too easy. They are liars and I will not defend them.
    Throw them under the bus. They deserve no less.

  • Mena

    Austin, the secularists are using the actions of a few bad eggs to unleash an entire onslaught upon the whole. They are USING the situation.

    They are taking advantage of the situation to slander the whole and to suggest all manner of progressive changes which “must take place if the Church is to regain its standing.” They then proceed to attack our traditional doctrines and make suggestions for how we can modernize. In fact, they aim to weaken us by wiping out the very unique distinctives which make us strong.

    They know our traditional doctrine stands in the way of their hedonistic utopia worldwide. Why don’t you know this, Austin? Seriously.

    Defend our Bishops and Pope. Defend your religion. Defend our people and priests. Defend our Church. If we stand up to these people and call them out, they will stand down.

  • Mere Catholic

    They are USING the situation.

    Yes, but who has created the situation? You can complain rightly about anti-Catholicism in the media and the general culture but you cannot dispute the fact that it is the Church’s own shepherds- including orthodox ones like Cardinal Law- who allowed this scandal to take place. Is holding them accountable not important?