The secular media continues to press Pope Benedict XVI regarding the extent of his knowledge in handling two cases of sexually abusive priests while he was head of the Vatican’s top doctrinal office. While the Vatican maintains the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had no immediate knowledge of the cases cited, the world’s secular media is relentlessly pushing the point for a statement from Pope Benedict.
Most of the secular press do not realize or just don’t want to realize that it was indeed Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger during his tenure as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith during the papacy of John Paul II that pushed for increased disclosure by the Church regarding these scandalous issues. After his election as Pope, Benedict XVI became a strong voice for those affected by clerical sex abuse and decried any attempts to cover up any allegations made against the Church and its wayward clergy.
Most observers, even Catholics fail to appreciate the discrete and often quite manner in which Benedict XVI operates, behind the scenes working towards a resolution of this horrendous period in the history of the Catholic Church. In particular, early in his papacy, Pope Benedict ordered the Congregation for the Clergy to adopt extensive powers granted by him to facilitate the removal of priests throughout the world charged with sexual allegations of abuse. The administrative authority granted by Benedict to the Congregation permits the curial department to reduce any cleric to the lay state by administrative order, so that the civil authorities could then take control of the case in which allegations were involved. This sweeping administrative authority given by Benedict XVI is frankly unprecedented in its level of delegation to a curial body in the Catholic Church. However, it permits Church officials to open greater cooperation between secular systems of juris prudence and the canonical process of laws that guide Catholic Church procedures and administrative activities.
Benedict XVI during his pastoral visit to the United States met with survivors of clerical sex abuse and has made public apologies on the part of the Church on multiple events. Besides the substantial monetary awards that have been granted to victims in the United States and throughout the world, seminaries and religious educational facilities have increased their educational and pastoral awareness of the sensitive issue of clerical sex abuse and changes have been implemented throughout the world that takes the safeguarding of children as the primary concern for all Catholic clergy and religious.
Pope Benedict XVI is indeed the head of a monolithic church that has been around for centuries, however, we need to also appreciate the humanity of the Pope from Bavaria and accept his personal limitations in dealing with the issue of sexual abuse as well. The Pastoral Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholic of Ireland is perhaps the best embodiment of the deeply felt remorse and profound sorrow the Pope himself personally feels in light of the sex abuse situation. While he acknowledges there is no real way for him to personally comprehend and understand the feelings of the individuals abused by clergy, he indeed promises change and the papal assurance that such behavior will not be tolerated under any circumstances within the Catholic Church.
Secular observers continue to harass the Pope to make a very public statement and proclamation regarding the sex abuse scandal and what exactly he knew about two of the cases that were presented to him as Archbishop and then as Cardinal Prefect of the Catholic Church’s Doctrinal Congregation. Through the Vatican’s Press Office, the Holy Father has answered the world’s secular media. It is time to look to the pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland as the principle blueprint that outlines Pope Benedict’s response to this crisis in his papacy. If indeed any Vatican observer claims to understand the person of Joseph Ratzinger, then the pastoral letter should and does indeed offer clues to the quiet tenacity the Holy Father utilizes to pursue and solve problems that confront the global Catholic Church.
Continued scrutiny of the problem, namely sexual abuse inflicted upon minors by Catholic clergy is the real issue that should be considered. The personal integrity of Pope Benedict XVI should not be part of the equation towards clarity. As head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict has repeatedly through his actions and words expressed personal remorse and accountability for the scandal. While a few cases seem to have arrived in the proximity of Cardinal Ratzinger for his opinion and actions, the Vatican has consistently and clearly maintained the future pope had no knowledge of his subordinates’ decisions.
If indeed the subordinates in the Ratzinger related Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith acted inappropriately, they made the errors in favor of charity towards the priests involved. While in retrospect that was not the correct direction to err, it nonetheless illustrates the desire the Catholic Church has towards healing and reconciliation as the primary objective. Pope Benedict XVI in the unfolding of his papacy has consistency maintained the need for greater pursuit of transparency in the Catholic Church when dealing with issues of sexual abuse. From all appearances and observations, the Pope’s directives towards this objective appear to be developing as the Pope himself is guiding their direction. However, the problem has been one that has had institutional silence for many years in the Catholic Church, and Pope Benedict’s responses are the first steps towards full acknowledgement and solutions to the scandal.
In the modern world, the methods of communications are virtually providing instant communications from place to place, without hesitation. The Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI is quickly learning how to respond and react to global opinions in a timely fashion through the unfortunate scandal of clergy sex abuse. However, true to its mission and ministry, forgiveness and reconciliation will always guide the responses of Pope Benedict XVI as both a man and the Successor of Saint Peter.
Pope Benedict’s paternal and quiet demeanor does not imply any lack of papal actions behind the scenes that will reveal him as the great reformer of the Catholic Church in the modern world.