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The Pope’s Cover-Up
Given the rash of reports about the current pope’s alleged involvement in the cover-up of clerical child abuse in a number of countries, I thought I’d produce a timeline for the convenience of anyone studying the matter. It’s no doubt incomplete, but hopefully helpful to those studying the issue.
March 1977: Joseph Alois Ratzinger appointed Archbishop of Munich by Pope Paul VI.
January 1980: Archbishop Ratzinger chairs the Munich Diocesan Council meeting where the case of a priest, Peter Hullermann, accused of sex abuse is discussed. (Hullerman, 31, had plied an 11 year old boy with alcohol and then had him perform oral sex on him.) The Council decides to refer the priest to counseling.
Within weeks Hullerman is reassigned to another parish. (Ratzinger’s vicar-general in Munich, Gerhard Gruber, has since assumed “full responsibility” for this assignment, noting that there were more than 1,000 priests in the archdiocese and that Ratzinger entrusted that kind of personnel matter to his subordinates.)
(Rev. Hullerman is to be convicted in 1986 of molesting young boys but is only suspended from the priesthood recently when this news story breaks.)
November 17, 1981: Oakland Bishop John Cummins’ requests that the Vatican allow the laicization of Rev. Stephan Kiesle, already convicted of child molestation by a California court. Ratzinger, now a Cardinal, replies. Content of this correspondence unknown.
Late November, 1981: Ratzinger is appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. (This was formerly known as the Holy Office, or the Office of the Inquisition.) Up until this point this body has had responsibility for handling rare cases in which local bishops attempt to defrock priests who contest the decision. Generally, cases of sexual abuse charges have been referred to the Congregation for Clergy.
November 1985: Ratzinger writes another letter in Latin to Bishop Cummins urging caution on the Kiesle case. “Consider the good of the Universal Church,” he writes. “It is necessary for this Congregation to submit incidents of this sort to very careful consideration, which necessitates a longer period of time.” He notes Kiesle’s youth at the time of the incident and urges the bishop to give “as much paternal care as possible” to the wayward priest.
(Kiesle is defrocked in 1987. In 2002 he is arrested and charged with 13 counts of child molestation dating from the 1970s. Most are thrown out due to the statute of limitations, but he is convicted of a felony offense involving a young girl in 1995 and sentenced to six years in prison.)
1998: Colm O’Gorman sues the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ferns, Ireland, and the Dublin Papal Nuncio, for sexual abuse he had received between ages 15 and 18. The nuncio claims diplomatic immunity but the diocese pays 300,000 euros in damages. (In 2006 O’Gorman produces the BBC documentary “Sex Crimes and the Vatican” accusing Ratzinger of concealing sex crimes for 20 years through the secret document, Crimen sollicitationis).
May 2001: Pope John Paul II issues Sacramentum sanctitatis tutela, a motu proprio (a type of papal rescript signed by the pontiff “on his own impulse”) assigning juridical responsibility for certain grave crimes under canon law, including sexual abuse of a minor, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It compels bishops all over the world to forward their case files to Rome, where the Congregation will make a decision about the appropriate course of action.
2001: Razinger as prefect issues an updated version of the 1962 Vatican document Crimen Sollicitationis (“The Crime of Solicitation”) which mandates that clerical sex offenses be reported to his office in Rome, and the documents kept locally under lock and key. This produces, according to the Italian newspaper L’Avvenire an “avalanche” of over 3000 files in Rome, most arriving in 2003-4.
The Crimen Sollicitationis according to Gorman includes a requirement for the child victim, accused priest, and any witnesses to maintain silence on the matter on threat of excommunication from the Church.
Early 2002: Boston Globe coverage of criminal trials of priests draws the issue of clerical child abuse in the U.S. to domestic and international attention. Many victims come forward and sue the church for damages, ultimately causing great financial loss to the Boston Archdiocese. It avoids bankruptcy by agreeing to sell land and buildings for over $100 million to fund legal settlements to more than 500 abuse victims.
June 13-15, 2002: U.S. Bishops’ Conference in Dallas adopts “Charter for the Protection of Minors from Sexual Abuse.” U.S. Church under intense pressure begins to enforce zero-tolerance “one strike you’re out policy” against offending priests, with Vatican approval for a trial period of five years.
(Soon the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales adopts similar policies in response to the Nolan Report which they had commissioned.)
November 30, 2002: at a conference organized by the Catholic University of St.
Anthony in Murcia, Spain, Ratzinger is asked to respond to the recent scandal about sexual abuse of children by clerics in the U.S. “This past year has been difficult for Catholics, given the space dedicated by the media to scandals attributed to priests. There is talk of a campaign against the church. What do you think?”
Ratzinger replies: “In the church, priests are also sinners. But I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower. In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than one percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type. The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information or to the statistical objectivity of the facts. Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the church.”
(The National Catholic Reporter notes: “For the record, in claiming ‘less than one percent’ of priests were guilty, Ratzinger was relying on an analysis by writer Philip Jenkins, published in the mid-1990s, of the Chicago archdiocese. In the end, the U.S. bishops’ own study concluded that accusations have been lodged against 4.3 percent of diocesan priests over the last 50 years, and some critics regard even that total as under-reported.”)
2003-2004: Ratzinger studies the many files on sexually abusive priests accumulating in his office. “As a result, he acquired a familiarity with the contours of the problem that virtually no other figure in the Catholic church can claim.” (National Catholic Inquirer)
February 27, 2004: Report commissioned by the U.S. Church concludes over 4,000 priests have faced sexual abuse allegations in the last 50 years, in cases involving more than 10,000 children (mostly boys).
April 17, 2005: two days before the opening of the conclave to select the new pope, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago meets Cardinal Ratzinger in his Vatican office to discuss the American sex abuse norms, including the “one strike and you’re out” policy. George later says Ratzinger shows a “good grasp” of the situation.
April 19, 2005: Ratzinger is elected Pope. As Cardinal George kisses his hand Ratzinger speaking in English recalls the conversation and says he will attend to the matter they discussed.
2006: Congregation of Bishops announces that U.S. “one-strike” norms for dealing with abuse have been adopted globally.
April 2008: Pope Benedict XVI refers to the clerical sexual abuse of children issue in five paragraphs in a sermon in the U.S., meets with victims in half-hour meeting in Vatican Embassy in Washington. (Declines to visit Boston, epicenter of the scandal.) In July, issues similar statement of apology in Australia.
Spring 2010: Ratzinger’s own history comes under scrutiny, along with that of his priest brother who, as director of the renowned Regensburger Domspatzen cathedral choir, admittedly slapped around choirboys in the 1960s when this was (supposedly) culturally normative.
March 6, 2010: Pastoral letter from Pope Benedict rebukes Irish bishops for “grave errors” in handling sexual abuse scandals; orders an investigation into the Irish church; makes no reference to Vatican policy of keeping such cases secret; offers a “particular word of encouragement” to the children and “concrete initiatives to address the situation,” including the following suggestions:
“I asked that Lent this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in your country. I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.”
April 1, 2010: Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin published; reveals how child abuse victims obliged to sign oaths of silence and how Church refused to cooperate with police investigations of child abuse.
April 1, 2010: Vatican declares it will invoke diplomatic immunity (Pope Benedict is a head of state) to avoid the pope having to testify in several U.S. court trials involving clerical sex abuse.
April 2, 2010: In a Good Friday sermon in St. Peter’s Basilica with the pope present Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa complains that priests are being stereotyped, mentioning that a Jewish friend had written him to say that accusations against the Church reminded him of the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”
The pope avoids the issue entirely in his Easter weekend messages.
April 4, 2010: Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano denounces the accusations against the Pope as a “vile defamation operation.”
* * *
The big picture: the Roman Catholic Church is a transnational institution, with grandiose claims of divine legitimacy, doctrinally committed since the fourth century to a culture of formal celibacy, that attracts (among others) many men who are sexually drawn to young people (males especially). Many of these have not been averse to using their religious authority and intimacy opportunities to realize their sexual fantasies.
The problem isn’t priests breaking their vows of chastity and realizing their sexuality. It’s not even “pedophilia” or “hebephilia.” 16 is the age of consent through most of Europe, and most of the cases of abuse seem to involve males around that age. Lots of gay men will tell you they had sex around that age with adult men and had a good time; that’s just empirical reality. The assumption that such encounters necessarily constitute “abuse” is merely a form of homophobia. As Judith Levine argues in her Harmful to Minors (University of Minnesota Press, 2002, introduction by former Surgeon-General Jocelyn Elders), it’s not fair or logical to suppose that all instances of sex between adolescents and adults are damaging. There have probably been many instances of perfectly voluntary, mutually satisfying encounters between Roman Catholic clerics, a large percentage of whom seem to be homosexually inclined, and young males. (To those who say this is just not possible, that they have to be somehow exploitative and intrinsically wrong, I suggest reading Levine.)
The problem is the abuse of religious authority, the use of force or pressure, the bringing of God and threats of damnation into the situation (“You’ll go to hell if you tell”). And then the reliance on a global institutional apparatus for protection from prosecution.
The Church confronting a snowballing scandal about sex abuse revelations reacted by instinct, attempting to insulate itself from outside examination. Ratzinger, the son of a policeman, realized the requirements of national laws to report cases of sex abuse to civil authorities. But “considering the good of the Universal Church” he declined to do so and indeed apparently presided over an effort to contain the problem, in-house, during the ‘80s and ‘90s. One need not impute to Ratzinger any personal stake in pedophilia. Let us take him at his word that he finds the phenomenon of priestly child abuse “filth.” But it was only the scandal breaking out in the U.S. press, causing numerous victims to come forward with their stories, producing lawsuits that financially strapped the U.S. church, that caused the Vatican to alter its policy of studiously shielding priests from local police authority.
I myself am not a big fan of the contemporary state and can understand the desire of a religious community to remain apart from it, and to want to handle its own problems internally without interference and to avoid embarrassment. But what the “Universal Church” has apparently been doing for its own “good” is to encourage a culture of impunity only modified under the pressure of lawsuits and damning media exposure. Mr. Ratzinger as pontiff has scurried to cover his papal ass by pretty pronouncements such as the recent pastoral letter to the Irish people in which he encourages Irish church officials “in addressing cases of child abuse, [to] continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence.” As though this had been long-standing Vatican policy!
Ratzinger conducts a devious slight-of-hand, feigning transparency and legal cooperation to obscure a history of concealment of egregious sex abuse instances “for the good of the Universal Church.” That’s the real history here, now requiring him to insist on diplomatic immunity so as not to appear in U.S. courtrooms.
* * *
The Huffington Report informs us that one Angelo Balducci, a Gentleman of His Holiness, one of those carrying the coffin of Pope John Paul II at his funeral in 2005, has been dismissed along with Vatican choristor Thomas Chinedu Eheim. Seems the latter was procuring young men of precise descriptions (“two black Cuban lads,” a rugby player, a former model from Milan) for the former, who paid them very well for their sexual services.
No surprise here. Just more gayness in the Vatican. And the play for pay aspect isn’t particulary disturbing; this is how things work in the world. But 2000 euros ($ 2,700) per tryst? That just seems unreasonable. Indeed, scandalous.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org