Judging from many of the press reports we’ve seen since March, the Holy Father was negligent when it came to the handling of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church. However, the public record shows something completely different. In fact, as Cardinal and prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he did more than anyone previously to prevent the problem.
Matthew Bunson, editor of The Catholic Answer magazine, has recently co-authored the Our Sunday Visitor book “Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal.” He argues that Pope Benedict’s real record is quite different from what the average Catholic in the pews is hearing from most of the news coverage.
“The average Catholic in the pews is confused,” said Bunson. “They’re hearing these accusations, suggestions and implications about the Holy Father – that he was somehow negligent as Archbishop in Munich, that he failed in his duties as head of the CDF, and that as Pope he has done very little to help bring an end to this problem in the Church – and they’re not sure if those accusations are true.”
“It’s become abundantly obvious to anyone who does extensive research, that for a very long time, the Church leadership in the U.S. and elsewhere was not aware of the scale and depth of the problem,” added Bunson. “Very few cases found their way to the CDF. They were handled by different departments, depending upon their nature. The Congregation for the Clergy handled a lot of them; the Rota – one of the courts of the Church – handled some of them. The Apostolic Signatura, which is the Supreme Court of the Church handled others.”
“As the situation grew more significant and the cases increased in number, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect for the CDF, became aware of the problem facing the Church around the world,” said Bunson. “Cardinal Ratzinger became convinced of the need for a centralization in the Vatican’s handling of these cases. The decree, issued in 2001, effectively moved all of the cases to the authority under the jurisdiction of the CDF.”
“From that point on, we can see that Cardinal Ratzinger became one of the world’s leading experts, if not the one person in the Church, who understood more profoundly what was going on,” continued Bunson. “He used to hold a Friday summary meeting where these cases were discussed. He came to refer to them as his ‘Friday penance.’”
“How aware he was, and committed he was, in dealing with the problem was revealed by his use of the term ‘filth’ when referring to abusive priests in his now famous 2005 Stations of the Cross, when he substituted for the ailing Pope John Paul II,” said Bunson. “We can see this process of understanding deepen and deepen in Cardinal Ratzinger, so that by the time he was elected, he became one of the great champions for reform in the Church, tying it to his wider program of spiritual renewal for the Church and the whole of western civilization. This is a very important matter to him and has been for a very long time.”
“The Good Friday meditations was the first real occasion he had to speak about this in a prayerful way,” said Bunson. “It set the pattern for how he has approached discussing this in public ever since his election, some weeks later. He has not handled this as a public relations problem, but sees that any meaningful substantive reform of the Church must be tied with a genuine, authentic spiritual renewal. We can have all kinds of laws in place, but this crisis is not going to be dealt with effectively and permanently unless we have all of us Catholics working together to make the Church as strong as she can be.”
“It’s safe to say that the Catholic Church is, today, the safest environment for children than any other institution in the U.S.,” said Bunson. “So much so, that the Catholic Church is a role model for other institutions dealing with the same exact problem.”