March 11, 2004 | 0 comments
Before Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival in the United States, many hoped he would address the clergy sexual abuse scandal, but no one could know for certain if he would. The doubters pointed to the fact that he had been invited to make Boston — epicenter of the 2002 revelations — a part of the itinerary, and declined. Didn’t that imply a lack of awareness of the importance of the issue?
Midway through this journey, Pope Benedict has addressed the clergy sexual abuse crisis three times with words and a fourth in a way far more powerful than words — by meeting with victims of clergy sexual abuse on the afternoon of April 17.
Benedict was not cajoled into uttering any of his words on the issue. Even in the most informal of settings in which it came up — the press conference on the plane — those questions asked of the Pope were preselected. And the first question selected to be answered, posed by veteran Vatican reporter John Allen, concerned this very issue.
I’ll come back to what Benedict has said about the abuse scandal in a moment, but first some background on his previous engagement with the issue, which has not made headlines, but is telling.
As prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, part of Cardinal Ratzinger’s responsibility, especially in the latter years of John Paul’s pontificate, was to handle the cases of priests accused of sexual abuse. He referred to his Friday mornings reading these dossiers as his “Friday penance.”
In an article published after his election, Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times wrote of this troubling part of Ratzinger’s job and also of the meetings some members of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board had with him in 2003. Former board chair Anne Burke reported they found a concerned and engaged listener in the Cardinal.p> THIS RELUCTANT IMMERSION in these cases led to a strong and poignant moment in 2005, just days before the death of John Paul II, when the traditional Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum, written that year by Cardinal Ratzinger, read, during the meditation on the Ninth Station: br> /p>
Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!br> Finally, and to me, very tellingly, in the fall of 2004, Ratzinger re-opened the long-controversial cases charging Legionary of Christ founder Marcial Maciel Degollado with abuse and exploitation of seminarians.
Maciel was disciplined in 2006 and when he died this past January, the Vatican had nothing to say. It is standard procedure for the Pope to issue a statement of condolence when a religious order founder dies. But from Benedict, silence.
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