You may have seen recent articles and news snippets regarding Pope Benedict XVI, leader of more than 1 billion Catholics, and accusations of his complacency in the face of priests who abused their flock.
The New York Times has led the charge, and various wire services as well as the major television networks and news channels have picked up their work. Clarification needs to be made.
First of all, abuse, especially sexual abuse, is always a serious crime. It affects all cultures, religions, races, times and places. In the past month Huron physician Robert Sherwood committed suicide while under investigation for allegations of sexual contact with young victims. Anyone who has suffered such a violation in the home, at school, church, or work deserves justice, healing, and peace.
Second, The New York Times has its facts wrong. Their own sources contradict their lead. They accuse Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, of “declining to defrock” Wisconsin priest Rev. Lawrence Murphy, accused of molesting hundreds of boys through the 1950s to the 1970s.
Blame is warranted in this case, but not to Cardinal Ratzinger. Blame resides in Wisconsin, where both church and civil authorities did nothing. By 1996, when Rome and Cardinal Ratzinger’s office consulted internal Church law, it said the local bishop had final decisions with these matters. This means that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office was consultative, not decisive.
This brings us to a third clarification. The Times says Ratzinger oversaw “thousands of cases forwarded by bishops … from 1981 to 2005.” In fact, Church law stated that responsibility for such procedures rested with local bishops following principles of subsidiarity.
That is until in 2001, when Pope John Paul II, at Cardinal Ratzinger’s urging, reorganized the Church so that all cases of abuse came through Cardinal Ratzinger’s office. Then action started happening.
Transparency and accountability are needed in all aspects of human life, including the Catholic Church. What needs to be understood is that Pope Benedict has performed a Herculean feat in moving notoriously slow Church bureaucracy. He is part of the solution, not part of the problem. I offer myself as a resource for those seeking more answers.
It is no coincidence that a 14-year-old instance is brought up in the week before Easter, the busiest time in the Church calendar. The real problem with Pope Benedict is that his vision of human life, the Catholic vision of human life, is at odds with the vision of the Times. Responsible journalism serves society by seeking the truth, educating the people, and tempering power in government and organizations.
The efforts of The New York Times are a far cry from responsible. We must take up what they lack and be responsible in seeking the truth.Father Dickinson serves at the Pius XII Newman Center.