Sexual Abuse Saga Taking an Unprecedented Turn

I’ve been representing survivors of priest sexual abuse for the better part of this decade now. I thought I had heard and seen just about everything concerning this tragedy but I was wrong. I’m witnessing a Pope being dragged into the middle of the Catholic priest abuse crisis. I’m not talking about his failure to discipline bishops or advocate for reform. I am talking about this Pope’s own personal involvement in sexual abuse. As the Archbishop of Munich in the early 1980’s, a priest working in the Archdiocese had been accused of the sexual abuse of at least one boy. This same priest was later allowed to return to pastoral ministry where he was later convicted of more sexual abuse crimes. As the sexual abuse scandals hits the Catholic Church in Germany, the Pope’s former archdiocese has been forced to deal with this scandal and the fact that a priest abuser had been re-assigned under Cardinal Ratzinger’s (now Pope Benedict) authority. Spokesmen for the Archdiocese of Munich moved quickly to squelch the news that the Pope himself was involved in allowing an abusive priest to continue in ministry. They even paraded Munich’s vicar general out in order that he could claim “full responsibility” for the ill advised transfer. Anyone familiar with the inner workings of the Catholic Church knows full well that the Archbishop had knowledge of this situation even if his name isn’t on any official document (see Cardinal Bernard Law’s depositions in Boston). Archbishops don’t cede authority over personnel decisions to lower ranking clerics. It is simply isn’t credible that the present pope didn’t know about this case.
If the Munich case wasn’t bad enough, Pope Benedict still has to deal with the letter he authored in 2001 as the Cardinal Secretary of the Doctrine for the Congregation of the Faith in which he instructed all Catholic bishops to refer all priest abuse cases to his office. In the letter, Ratzinger sternly warned the bishops that these matters were subject to the “pontifical secret”. The pontifical secret is a serious matter for Catholics in that it binds those who are subjected to it to complete and total secrecy. In essence, Ratzinger was telling the bishops that they couldn’t tell anyone (including civil authorities) about anything involving the particular sex abuse case. Isn’t that what we call in this country obstruction of justice?
This week hasn’t been a good one for Pope Benedict. He’s got a growing credibility problem. His past actions may be coming back to haunt him. We haven’t witnessed this before. We could say his predecessor John Paul II was inept in handling the issue or that he turned a blind eye. What we couldn’t say about John Paul was that he was personally implicated in the scandal.