New York Times - March 27, 2010
As Archbishop, Benedict Focused on Doctrine
By KATRIN BENNHOLD and NICHOLAS KULISH
MUNICH — When Pope Benedict XVI was archbishop of Munich and Freising, he was broadly described as a theologian more concerned with doctrinal debates than personnel matters. That, say his defenders, helps explain why he did not keep close tabs on a pedophile priest sent to his archdiocese in 1980 and allowed to work in a parish.
Yet in 1979, the year before Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, approved the Rev. Peter Hullermann’s move to Munich, the cardinal blocked the assignment to the local university of a prominent theology professor recommended by the university senate. And in 1981, he punished a priest for holding a Mass at a peace demonstration, leading the man to ultimately leave the priesthood.
Pope Benedict’s four-and-a-half-year tenure as archbishop is among the least-examined periods of his life, but his time presiding over 1,713 priests and 2.2 million Catholics was in many ways a dress rehearsal for his present job tending to the Roman Catholic Church’s more than one billion members worldwide.
As archbishop, Benedict expended more energy pursuing theological dissidents than sexual predators. Already in the early 1980s, one could catch a glimpse of a future pope preoccupied with combating any movement away from church tradition. Vatican experts say there is little evidence that Benedict spent much time investigating more than 200 cases of “problem priests” in the diocese, with issues including alcohol abuse, adultery and, now under the microscope, pedophilia.
“His natural habitat was the faculty lounge, and he hadn’t even been a faculty chair,” said John L. Allen Jr. of The National Catholic Reporter. “He would be the first to concede he was much more interested in the life of the mind than the nuts and bolts of administrative work.”
Andreas Englisch, a leading German Vatican expert and the author of several books on Benedict, said that Cardinal Ratzinger “was never interested in bureaucratic stuff,” and noted that when he was first asked to be archbishop of Munich, he considered turning down the post because he did not want to work as “a manager.” In his autobiography, Benedict described taking the post as “an infinitely difficult decision.”
His management decisions are now the central focus of the widening scandal in the church in Germany. His supporters say that although he approved Father Hullermann’s move to his archdiocese, they assume that he may not have paid attention to a memo informing him that the priest, who had sexually abused boys in his previous posting, was almost immediately allowed to resume parish duties.
“He certainly would not have realized anything; he was in a different sphere,” said Hannes Burger, 72, who covered the church, including during Benedict’s time as archbishop, for the Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“He held beautiful sermons and wrote beautifully, but the details he left to his staff,” said Mr. Burger, who interviewed the future pope several times before he went to Rome. “He was a professorial bishop, with Rome as his goal.”
Three decades ago it was common practice in the church to ignore or cover up incidents of molestation, or, in severe cases, to transfer priests to faraway parishes. Even outside the church, both victims and law enforcement authorities were less likely to take decisive steps to expose and combat abuse.
But Benedict’s track record in handling such cases under his direct control has assumed new relevance because he presides over a church troubled by scandal. He has to weigh whether and how severely to punish bishops who failed to act to deal with abuses in their domains.
In fact, in his efforts to combat child abuse in 2010, Benedict faces a dilemma over how to handle the same kind of institutional secrecy that was practiced by his own archdiocese in 1980. The future pope himself chose “co-workers of the truth,” as the motto for his time as archbishop.
The case is alarming, wrote the German newspaper Die Zeit last week, not “because Ratzinger was guilty of an exceptional offense.”
“It is the other way around: It is significant because the archbishop acted as probably most other dignitaries in those years,” it wrote. “In 1980 Joseph Ratzinger was part of the problem that preoccupies him today.”
Benedict was a stern disciplinarian on the issue that propelled him up the church hierarchy. An early enthusiast for reform in the Catholic Church in the early 1960s, he soon changed his mind and joined the ranks of those trying to put the brakes on the liberalizing forces unleashed by the counterculture movement.
His time in Munich was marked by confrontations with the local clergy, theologians and priests who worked there at the time say.
Cardinal Ratzinger ruffled feathers almost upon arrival in Munich by ordering priests to return to celebrating First Communion and first confession in the same year, rather than having the first confession a year later, a practice that had become established over the previous decade, and which its advocates considered more appropriate for young children.
One priest, the Rev. Wilfried Sussbauer, said he wrote to the archbishop at the time questioning the change, and said Cardinal Ratzinger “wrote me an extremely biting letter” in response.
After receiving the letter, Father Sussbauer and other priests asked for an audience with their archbishop in 1977. They did not get one. But the visiting sister of President Jimmy Carter did. When the priests found out, they called Cardinal Ratzinger’s office. “We asked, ‘Who is more important, your own priests or the sister of the American president?’ ” Father Sussbauer, 77, recalled. “Then suddenly we got an appointment.”
Cardinal Ratzinger was already something of a clerical diplomat, traveling as the official representative of Pope John Paul I to Ecuador in 1978. And with two conclaves to select a new pope in 1978, it seemed at times as if the archbishop already had one foot in the Vatican.
“His predecessor as archbishop was simply more aware of the practical problems of pastoral work,” said Wolfgang Seibel, a Jesuit priest and editor of the Munich-based magazine Stimmen der Zeit from 1966 to 1998. “He didn’t have enough time to leave his mark.”
How closely he would have watched personnel decisions, especially with an administrative chief, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, who had been in his post since 1968, is an open question. But the transfer of Father Hullermann from Essen would not have been a routine matter, experts said.
Mr. Englisch, the Vatican expert, said that transferring a problem priest was “such a difficult decision” that it would necessarily have required his opinion.
“I think the guy who handled it would have gone to his archbishop and said, ‘This case of transferring a priest is not common, and we should really have an eye on him,’ ” Mr. Englisch said. Referring to Benedict, he added, “I don’t think that he really knew the details; I don’t think he was really interested in the details.”
“As they say in the legal profession, you either knew or you should have known,” said the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, who once worked at the Vatican Embassy in Washington and became an early and well-known whistle-blower on sexual abuse in the church. “The archbishop is the unquestioned authority in that diocese. The buck stops there.”
Rachel Donadio and Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome.
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New York Times - March 27, 2010
A Nope for Pope
By MAUREEN DOWD | Op-Ed Columnist
Yup, we need a Nope.
A nun who is pope.
The Catholic Church can never recover as long as its Holy Shepherd is seen as a black sheep in the ever-darkening sex abuse scandal.
Now we learn the sickening news that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler” when he was the church’s enforcer on matters of faith and sin, ignored repeated warnings and looked away in the case of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys.
The church has been tone deaf and dumb on the scandal for so long that it’s shocking, but not surprising, to learn from The Times’s Laurie Goodstein that a group of deaf former students spent 30 years trying to get church leaders to pay attention.
“Victims give similar accounts of Father Murphy’s pulling down their pants and touching them in his office, his car, his mother’s country house, on class excursions and fund-raising trips and in their dormitory beds at night,” Goodstein wrote. “Arthur Budzinski said he was first molested when he went to Father Murphy for confession when he was about 12, in 1960.”
It was only when the sanctity of the confessional was breached that an archbishop in Wisconsin (who later had to resign when it turned out he used church money to pay off a male lover) wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger at the Vatican to request that Father Murphy be defrocked.
The cardinal did not answer. The archbishop wrote to a different Vatican official, but Father Murphy appealed to Cardinal Ratzinger for leniency and got it, partly because of the church’s statute of limitations. Since when does sin have a statute of limitations?
The pope is in too deep. He has proved himself anything but infallible. And now he claims he was uninformed on the matter of an infamous German pedophile priest. A spokesman for the Munich archdiocese said on Friday that Ratzinger, running the diocese three decades ago, would not have read the memo sent to him about Father Peter Hullermann’s getting cycled back into work with children because between 700 to 1,000 memos go to the archbishop each year.
Let’s see. That’s two or three memos a day. And Ratzinger was renowned at the Vatican for poring through voluminous, recondite theological treatises.
Because he did not defrock the demented Father Murphy, it’s time to bring in the frocks.
Pope Benedict has continued the church’s ban on female priests and is adamant against priests’ having wives. He has started two investigations of American nuns to check on their “quality of life” — code for seeing if they’ve grown too independent. As a cardinal he wrote a Vatican document urging women to be submissive partners and not take on adversarial roles toward men.
But the completely paternalistic and autocratic culture of Il Papa led to an insular, exclusionary system that failed to police itself, and that became a corrosive shelter for secrets and shame.
If the church could throw open its stained glass windows and let in some air, invite women to be priests, nuns to be more emancipated and priests to marry, if it could banish criminal priests and end the sordid culture of men protecting men who attack children, it might survive. It could be an encouraging sign of humility and repentance, a surrender of arrogance, both moving and meaningful.
Cardinal Ratzinger devoted his Vatican career to rooting out any hint of what he considered deviance. The problem is, he was obsessed with enforcing doctrinal orthodoxy and somehow missed the graver danger to the most vulnerable members of the flock.
The sin-crazed “Rottweiler” was so consumed with sexual mores — issuing constant instructions on chastity, contraception, abortion — that he didn’t make time for curbing sexual abuse by priests who were supposed to pray with, not prey on, their young charges.
American bishops have gotten politically militant in recent years, opposing the health care bill because its language on abortion wasn’t vehement enough, and punishing Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights and stem cell research. They should spend as much time guarding the kids already under their care as they do championing the rights of those who aren’t yet born.
Decade after decade, the church hid its sordid crimes, enabling the collared perpetrators instead of letting the police collar them. In the case of the infamous German priest, one diocese official hinted that his problem could be fixed by transferring him to teach at a girls’ school. Either they figured that he would not be tempted by the female sex, or worse, the church was even less concerned about putting little girls at risk.
The nuns have historically cleaned up the messes of priests. And this is a historic mess. Benedict should go home to Bavaria. And the cardinals should send the white smoke up the chimney, proclaiming “Habemus Mama.”
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