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Monday, Mar. 29, 2010

The Catholic Church: Sins of the
Fathers
By Bobby Ghosh

On Good Friday 2005, as a dying Pope John Paul II watched via video hookup, worshippers outside the candlelit
Way of the Cross ceremony in Rome's Colosseum recited meditations written by the man who would be his
successor. Breaking with tradition, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's musings veered away from Christ's Passion and
into the Catholic Church's current problems. "How much filth there is in the Church," he wrote, clearly referring
to the charges of sex abuse by priests that had rocked the church in the U.S. "And even among those who, in the
priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!"
But if Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, felt an unalloyed loathing for the abusers, his view on how they should
be treated was more complicated. Some years before, as head of the Vatican body investigating abuse by priests,
he argued that accused clergymen should not be handed over to secular authorities. Rather, he wrote
confidentially to bishops around the world in 2001, they should first be investigated under utmost secrecy within
the church — thereby avoiding public hysteria and second-guessing by the media. (See pictures of Obama meeting
Pope Benedict XVI.)
Secrecy is a luxury no longer available to Benedict. The recent revelations of sex-abuse scandals in Europe have
smashed the perception that predatory priests are an American anomaly. Hundreds of accusations, from Ireland
and now mainland Europe, have thrust the Vatican into the grip of its greatest crisis since the 2002 revelations of
abuse in the U.S. The church's standing is falling to new lows among believers in its European heartland. Sensing
the growing public alarm, some within the clergy are pushing for profound institutional and ecclesiastical
changes, including an end to the priesthood's fundamental tenet of celibacy.
For the Pope, all this has become deeply personal: many of the latest scandals are rooted in his native Germany,
and they have dragged in his own brother, who headed a famous Bavarian choir at a school where young boys
were allegedly abused. Benedict himself stands accused of poorly handling the case of a pedophile priest when he
was Archbishop of Munich and Freising in the early 1980s. While there's virtually no chance of the Pope himself
being brought down — the last time a Pontiff bowed out in disgrace was in 1046 (Gregory VI, for financial
impropriety) — it is entirely possible the scandals will permanently sully his papacy. "This is going to be a major
part of his legacy," says an American priest in Rome who asked not to be named. (See pictures of Pope Benedict
XVI visiting America.)
The Pope's defenders say he has tried hard to force the church to confront its demons openly. "As Pope, he has

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been unusually and laudably aggressive in dealing with abusers," says David Gibson, author of a Benedict
biography. Benedict has on several occasions called for "absolute transparency" on sexual abuse. During a visit to
Washington, D.C., in 2008, he met in private with some victims of abuse by American priests. But he has been
remarkably unforthcoming about the latest scandals. If the Pope does reveal his feelings about the current
upheaval, it may be in writing: he said he would shortly publish a pastoral letter — a papal guide on how the
church in Ireland should respond to charges of pedophilia among priests there. But it's unclear if it will address
the church's broader crisis or the charges in Germany that allegedly involve him personally.
His reluctance to speak out surprises and hurts many Catholics. "Many Catholics in Germany had hoped that the
Pope would have expressed a word of personal sympathy for the victims of abuse," says Christian Weisner,
spokesman for the well-known Catholic reform group We Are Church. Papal officials, however, defend Benedict's
silence. "The Pope was not part of what happened back then, and he shouldn't be part of it now," says a Vatican
insider. Indeed, the Vatican has mounted an aggressive campaign to portray the scandals as an attempt to
besmirch the Pope and discredit the church as a whole. "Over recent days some people have sought, with
considerable persistence ... [to] personally involve the Holy Father in questions of abuse," Vatican spokesman
Federico Lombardi said in a written commentary. Another senior official goes further. "They want to involve the
Pope at all costs," he tells TIME. "It's a desire to destroy the church, and this is an operation that has been well
planned. They don't like the church's teachings on moral questions and sexuality, and this is how they think they
can strike." (See the top 10 religion stories of 2009.)
Who "they" are is uncertain. Like conspiracy theorists of every stripe, the Vatican doesn't name its enemies.
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Trouble in the Old World
The chain of scandals now tightening around the Vatican began in Ireland last year with the publication of two
government-commissioned reports concerning sexual abuse by priests and at schools and orphanages run by the
church. Four of Ireland's 24 bishops offered their resignation. Since then, the Irish Primate, Cardinal Sean Brady,
has admitted he met two young victims of a pedophile priest in 1975 and asked them to sign an oath of silence.
The priest went on to molest children for almost two decades before being arrested and sent to prison. Brady is
resisting calls for his resignation.
In Germany, the scandal started in late January, when the rector of Canisius College in Berlin admitted there had
been at least 50 alleged cases of sexual abuse at the élite Jesuit high school in the 1970s and '80s. The charges
came as a surprise; Catholics in mainland Europe rarely challenge the priesthood. "The church was always more
tightly controlled in Europe," says Gibson. "There's not the same kind of legal and journalistic advocacy as in the
U.S." But the Canisius College scandal opened the floodgates; with at least 300 allegations of abuse, it's now
estimated that two-thirds of Germany's 27 Roman Catholic dioceses have been affected by the scandal. (See
pictures of John 3:16 in pop culture.)
Even the famous choir of Regensburg, led for 30 years by the Pope's brother Georg Ratzinger, was drawn into the
scandal after former choirboys said they had endured brutal beatings and sexual abuse. Georg Ratzinger, now

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retired, said he was unaware of sexual-abuse cases but said he regretted slapping members of the choir. Franz
Wittenbrink, a former singer who lived at the Regensburg boarding school connected with the choir from 1958 to
1967, tells TIME it is "unimaginable" that Ratzinger hadn't heard about sexual abuse during his time as director.
Wittenbrink claims there was a "widespread system of sadistic punishments and sexual lust" at the school and in
the choir.
Within the past few weeks, reports of abuse have been proliferating across Europe — in the Netherlands,
Switzerland, Austria and Poland, the home of Benedict's beloved predecessor. To Gibson, it is especially damaging
to the Vatican that allegations are "coming out now in Bavaria and Austria, in the bastion of Old World
Catholicism." (See pictures of spiritual healing around the world.)
The case that has gotten the greatest attention embroils Benedict himself. As Archbishop of Munich and Freising
in 1980, he approved therapy for a priest who had been accused of molesting boys in the diocese of Essen. At the
time, it was not uncommon for pedophiles to be prescribed therapy. But the priest was quickly allowed to return
to pastoral duties, allowing him to continue abusing minors for several more years. He was convicted of sexual
abuse in 1986 — yet still he continued to work as a priest. (Ratzinger moved to Rome in 1982, long before the
conviction.) The priest was finally exposed by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper last week. On March 12, the
Archdiocese of Munich and Freising admitted in a statement that "serious mistakes were made in the 1980s."
Three days later, the priest was suspended for breaching a church-imposed ban on working with children.
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Did Benedict know about the priest's swift return to pastoral work after his therapy? The archdiocese says the
decision was made by Benedict's then deputy, who has taken full responsibility. But the American priest in Rome
says Ratzinger, famously a micromanager, must have known of the decision. "It's probably just a matter of time,"
the American says, "before it comes out that he did know more than they are saying now."
As the scandals have multiplied, so too have calls for profound change in the priesthood. One perennial proposal
dusted off in recent weeks is the abolition of celibacy among priests: commentators in Germany and Italy have
suggested it may help prevent abuse. Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has called for a thoroughgoing
review of the causes of abuse, writing, "Part of it is the question of celibacy." That sort of questioning is now taking
place even in Benedict's former archdiocese. "Married priests should be accepted in the Catholic Church," says
Rainer Schiessler, a priest at Munich's St. Maximilian Church. (See 10 surprising facts about the world's oldest
Bible.)
Father, Don't Be Mum
The Vatican argues that there's no connection between vows of celibacy and sexual deviance, and the Pope
himself, a staunch conservative who recently defended celibacy as "an expression of the gift of oneself to God," is
unlikely to budge on the issue.
The more immediate question is whether Benedict can resist pressure to directly address the abuse scandals.
Gibson, his biographer, says that's just not in the Pope's character: "He's not the type who opens up for self-

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reflection, hashing out the past and past mistakes." At best, he says, there will be an oblique reference to the
Europe-wide uproar in the pastoral letter to the Irish. (See people finding God on YouTube.)
That may not be enough: in Germany and Ireland there's a growing clamor for fresh public inquiries, the kind
Ratzinger opposed. In the Pope's homeland, many want him to make a public statement. On March 12, he gave a
45-minute audience to the head of Germany's Catholic Church, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch. Afterward, Zollitsch
said church leaders in Germany would conduct a review of current guidelines on priests suspected of abuse and
appoint a special representative to look into claims. The aim, Zollitsch said, apologizing to victims in the past, was
to "uncover the truth" of priestly behavior. The Pope remained silent.
— With reporting by Jeff Israely / Rome and Tristana Moore / Berlin
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