Former Pope Benedict XVI’s Mixed Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse

Former Pope Benedict XVI's Mixed Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse

Vatican City:

Benedict XVI was the first pope to face the scourge of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic church, but only after a career in which he himself was accused of covering it up.

Joseph Ratzinger, of Germany, who died Saturday at the age of 95, was the first pope to meet abuse victims and ordained nearly 400 priests in the last two years of his pontificate.

His actions are a stark change from his predecessor John Paul II, who spent decades responding to what has become a flurry of accusations of pedophilia priests around the world, from Australia to Chile, France and the United States.

But his successor, Pope Francis, has gone much further, raising the question of why Benedict has not done more, both as pope and during his long career at the head of the church.

His final year was overshadowed by allegations that he intentionally failed to stop four priests accused of child molestation while he was archbishop of Munich in the 1980s.

After the statements surfaced in a sensational 2022 report, Benedict’s aides insisted that “as an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up. any abuse”.

‘Churches are protected, not children’

But critics have for years accused the silent theologian, known as a cool but intelligent intellectual, of being inadequate to handle the scale of the problem.

Revelations of widespread child sexual abuse by priests worldwide, and the Catholic church’s efforts to cover up the crime, began to emerge in the second half of the 1980s.

However, it was not until 2001 that then-Pope John Paul II ordered the bishops to submit the case file to the powerful Vatican doctrinal office headed by Ratzinger.

The cardinal then had the ultimate responsibility for investigating allegations of abuse.

He is nicknamed the “Rottweiler of God” as head of the catechism – but critics say he is more fiercely protective of the church’s reputation than children.

A leaked secret letter sent to all the bishops in May 2001 shows Ratzinger ordered the investigations to be kept secret – something his accusers say effectively shielded those who were not involved. predators and thwart police investigations.

first history

As pope, however, he is more assertive.

In 2006, a year after his election, Benedict took a big step in the face of opposition from Pope John Paul II and disciplined the most famous priest accused of sexual abuse, Marcial Maciel Degollado.

The conservative Legion of Christ founder has been ordered to give up his public ministry to live a life of “pray and penance” in what Benedict’s supporters hail as a landmark moment.

Two years later, Benedict XVI became the first pope to meet abuse victims during trips to the United States and Australia, saying he had “no words…

He was also the first pope to dedicate an entire document to the crisis – his pastoral letter to Ireland in 2010, in which he said he shared the “dismay and sense of betrayal” of the victim.

The decision to untie nearly 400 priests during the last two years of his pontificate is credited by some for initiating the purification process that Francis has accelerated.

“As the pope, it was (Benedict) who opened this dramatic chapter,” Iacopo Scaramuzzi, Vatican expert and journalist for the Italian daily La Repubblica, told AFP.

“He accepts criticism, sets new standards, meets victims… he’s much stricter than John Paul II.”

‘Deep shame’

But Benedict let many people down when in 2019, six years after retiring to live a quiet life in the Vatican, the then “pope emeritus” blamed abuse scandals for his life. sexual revolution of the 1960s.

And in 2022, his reputation was dealt a heavy blow when he was forced to beg forgiveness for the child molestation of a cleric under him.

An independent investigation by a German law firm found he actively failed to stop pedophile priests in the 1980s – although in two cases they committed some of the abuses. proven.

“I’ve had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. My pain is even greater for the abuses and errors that occurred in various places during my mandate,” Benedict wrote.

But while he spoke of “deep shame” and “sincere pleas for forgiveness”, groups representing abuse victims accused him of not taking any specific responsibility. any.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from an aggregated feed.)

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