The investigation into abuse involving Joseph Ratzinger


The report published on January 20 in Germany on the cases of pedophilia which occurred in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising and implicating Joseph Ratzinger – pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who for five years was archbishop of the diocese – arouses a lively controversy. The report, commissioned by the archdiocese itself and produced by the law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl, covers the years from the post-war period to 2019, and indicates that Ratzinger did not take adequate measures in the face of four cases of child sexual abuse. abuses that occurred between 1977 and 1982, when he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising.

The conservative wing of the Catholic world, to which Ratzinger belongs, has been trying for days to defend the pope emeritus.

The Catholic movement Communion and Liberation spoke of “defamatory accusations”. Camillo Ruini, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference from 1991 to 2007, said the accusations are “absurd” and that Ratzinger would never become pope “if his conscience had reproached him for something”.

But Ratzinger also receives solidarity from other parts of the Catholic world. Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication of the Holy See, wrote on the front page of theRoman observer and on the Vatican News site that it was Pope Benedict XVI himself who was the first pope to meet victims of abuse several times during his apostolic journeys: , amid the storm of scandals in Ireland and in Germany, the face of a penitential Church, which humbles itself asking for forgiveness, which experiences consternation, remorse, pain, compassion and closeness”.

In 2010, in a letter to Irish Catholics, Benedict XVI wrote, addressing priests responsible for sexual abuse: “You will have to answer for them before Almighty God, as well as before duly constituted tribunals”.

Many have pointed out that at this time Benedict XVI could not ignore the problem, given the large number of reports of abuse that emerged during his pontificate. In the years 2005 to 2013, cases broke out in Germany, France, Belgium, Malta, Australia, and more generally there was a growing awareness – even within the Catholic community – that the Church had covered up violence and sexual abuse committed by its own decades. clergy.

The report of the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl study containing the accusations against Ratzinger analyzes the cases of 497 victims – 60% of the cases are minors – and 235 perpetrators of abuse. Most of the crimes are believed to have been committed in the 1960s and 1970s. Of the 235 suspects, 173 were priests. Among the approximately 500 victims, 247 were men, in 60% of cases aged 8 to 14, and 182 women. In approximately seventy cases, the identity of the victim has not been established.

In the report, Ratzinger is accused of failing to act on four cases of abuse that occurred while he was archbishop. At this time, the report being confidential, the allegations are not entirely clear. What is certain is that there is attached to the report a denial from Ratzinger himself, in which he asserts that he was not present at an important session in 1980 during which it was decided to welcome a priest accused of sexual abuse of minors in the diocese of Monk. That denial actually made matters worse: the report’s legal editors deemed it “uncredible,” and in recent days Ratzinger has admitted providing false information to investigators.

In a press release given to the press agency kna by his historical secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict XVI affirmed, contrary to what had been affirmed previously, that he had participated in the meeting, held on January 15, 1980, when he was Archbishop of Munich. The error, the note reads, was not made “by bad intentions, but was the consequence of an oversight in the drafting of his opinion. How this could have happened, he will specify in the opinion which he will present later. He is very sorry for this mistake and asks for his forgiveness.’ to provide him with accommodation in Munich while he was undergoing “therapeutic treatment”.

The memo goes on to explain that the 95-year-old Pope Emeritus is carefully reading the report, which is over a thousand pages long, and will only issue a statement after he has finished reading.

Supporters of Joseph Ratzinger have recalled these days how he was the Pope who punished Marcial Maciel Degollado: Mexican Catholic leader, who died in the United States in 2008 at the age of 88, he was the founder of the Clerical Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ. . The first allegations of abuse against him date back to the 1950s, and over the decades dozens of complaints have been filed.

Degollado chose seminarians based on their physical attractiveness, had sex with them, and then absolved them. He also said he had special permission from Pope Pius XII, which allowed seminarians to have sex with him. In the congregation, where there is a strong personality cult towards Father Maciel, a rule is in force: no one should talk about what is going on inside. This was not the case: the complaints intensified, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, and reached the high hierarchies of the Vatican, of which Ratzinger was already a member. Yet no one did anything and indeed, the seminarians said, Pope John Paul II – also from conservative circles – continued to show friendship towards Maciel.

A former seminarian, José Barba Martin, in the mid-1990s published an open letter in a Mexican newspaper, Milenius. The letter listed Maciel’s crimes, substantiated them with evidence and dates, and bore the signatures of seven other former legionnaires. It caused a huge stir throughout Latin America where the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ controlled universities, schools and institutions, but also had access to the best institutions and maintained relationships with many influential entrepreneurs.

Marcial Maciel Degollado (Ansa / Pino / Kld)

The contents of the letter naturally also reached the Vatican. Barba Martin says today: “No one has ever given us an answer. We have been ignored. I am personally convinced that John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger were well aware of Maciel’s guilt”.

It was after the election as pope of Joseph Ratzinger that the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith imposed on Maciel the renunciation of all ministry and imposed on him a reserved life of prayer and penance for having perpetrated sexual abuse and crimes of pedophilia for decades on many seminarians of his congregation, and having subsequently acquitted some in confession. Benedict XVI has defined Maciel, who had six children with four different daughters, “a false prophet”.

It is true that Benedict XVI signed this provision, say the victims of the time, but a strong ambiguity remained on his part. Barba Martin repeats: “There was no trial and therefore we never had formal justice.”

Slamovir Oder, postulator of the cause of canonization and then beatification of John Paul II, explained that in reality Karol Woytjla did not know how things really happened: and consequently neither did Joseph Ratzinger at the time. “I can say,” explains Oder, “that John Paul II experienced first-hand the discredit which, in Poland, under the communist regime, was continually thrown at Polish priests. The Secret Service was building cases to accuse them of horrible things. Wojtyla knew these accusations were false and fabricated. So until there was clear evidence and a margin of doubt remained, he thought it might be the result of unfair manipulation.”

Regardless of the position of Joseph Ratzinger and his real or alleged faults, the whole Catholic Church continues to be shaken by the continuous reports that arrive from many countries.

Hans Zollner, president of the Center for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University, to whom Pope Francis has entrusted the prevention of the scourge of sexual abuse of minors in the Church, said in an interview with hurry: “In the world, in all regions, between 3 and 5% of priests abuse. We have criminals among us. This is why we must still take steps forward to purify the Church”. Zollner added that an investigation is also needed in Italy.

The German report, which follows the one published in October in France and which brought to light 216,000 cases of abuse by Catholic priests or religious from 1950 to the present day, has caused the resumption, within the Church , of the clash between the progressives, who want to speed up transparency operations as much as possible, and the conservatives.

Not that progressives are unscathed and unaffected by the scandals. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, an emblematic figure of the progressive Church, who had resigned from the pope months ago and then been rejected, precisely because of the timid response to the question of abuse, was mentioned by the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl report: he allegedly made mistakes in handling two abuses. Marx asked for forgiveness from the victims of abuse “but also from the faithful, who now doubt the Church, who no longer trust those responsible and whose faith has suffered damage”.

Marx then added: “In one case at least, I blame myself for not actively intervening. Could I have acted more and with more commitment? Yes of course”.

Reinhard Marx (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

In 2019, Pope Francis convened an unprecedented summit in Rome to address these issues. On January 21, when receiving the members of the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he declared: “The Church, with the help of God, firmly pursues the commitment to bring justice to the victims of abuses committed by its members. He then added: “With this in mind, I recently updated the norms on crimes reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the desire to make judicial action more effective.”

So far, the only major countries in which the Church has yet to open an unfettered investigation into cases of sexual abuse by priests are Italy and Spain.

“It’s as if” writes Giovanni Panettiere, author of the chronicle Not just the Vatican to“The 227 Italian dioceses were safe from a scourge on which the pope does not want a concealment to the point of prescribing the dismissal of bishops who are negligent in the management of cases of pedophilia”.

The CEI, the Italian Episcopal Conference, shows no signs of wanting to identify and provide the number of cases of pedophilia in Italy, even if an internal debate is underway and the favors of an investigation are growing. many. Everything will depend on who will be the next President of the Conference: the elections will take place in May.


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