EDITORIAL: The harshness of the attacks directed against Benedict XVI following the publication of the report is not justified by the actual evidence of the report and seems oddly timely given the recent German synodal path.
The sexual abuse of minors by clergy is an appalling crime. It is such a serious scandal that it has completely undermined the confidence of many faithful in their Catholic leaders. It has also deeply wounded the ability of the Church to undertake its fundamental evangelical mission of saving souls.
This is why it is so disturbing to see this issue cynically commandeered by some progressive Catholics. The Church must continue to seek genuine solutions to combat sexual abuse, support victims of abuse, punish sexual aggressors and learn from past mistakes. Instead, these Catholics exploit it as an instrument to advance agendas that contradict the established teachings of the Church – as in the case of the doctrinal dissent that is currently being openly promoted by the highly problematic “Synodal Way” of the German Church.
Equally troubling is the willingness of these Catholics to misuse the abuse scandal to denigrate some Church leaders, more than others who are viewed more favorably because of their particular worldview.
The most egregious example is the criticism leveled at Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – by some German Church officials and by many media – at the report by German law firm Westpfahl Spilker published last month after investigating the treatment sexual abuse cases by the Archdiocese of Munich. Their report concluded that Benedict XVI “can be charged with misconduct” for handling four cases in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising between 1977 and 1982, while serving as Archbishop there.
In a recent EWTN News interview defending Benedict XVI, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the former pope’s longtime personal secretary, referenced a telling phrase some German Catholics have coined to describe what is at stake when the issue of sexual abuse is diverted to effect sweeping doctrinal changes and to denigrate Church leaders whose views do not conform to these progressive agendas: they accurately describe it as “the abuse of sexual abuse “.
As Archbishop Gänswein also pointed out, the harshness of the attacks directed against Benedict following the publication of the report is not justified by the actual evidence contained in the report, in terms of his limited culpability for mishandling the abuse.
Correcting the record is of little help, however, in terms of mitigating the damage caused by these widespread exaggerations of the report’s conclusions.
Accurate facts do not seem to matter to those who would “abuse the abuse” to advance their doctrinal agenda, any more than accuracy mattered when some within the Church in Germany waged a similar campaign of hype against Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne in the wake. of this archdiocese’s landmark investigation into the handling of clerical sexual abuse. By contrast, figures like Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current Archbishop of Munich, have been spared such harsh reactions from progressives regarding the extent of their own documented involvement in cases of clerical abuse that have been poorly managed.
This wildly disparate treatment seems disconnected from how well or poorly these German bishops oversaw their diocesan clerical sexual abuse records.
On the contrary, it seems directly related to where they are judged to stand, in terms of opposing or supporting the potentially schismatic agendas that the German “synodal way” is formally endorsing.
It should also be noted that, although proponents of the Synodal Way insist that their process was launched specifically to find new ways to combat sexual abuse and restore trust in the Church, its main priorities – such as the ordination of women, the endorsement of homosexuality and an end to compulsory celibacy for priests – were perched high on the progressive wish list for decades before anyone claimed they could d somehow serve as a remedy for abuse.
There is growing resistance against these misrepresentations.
In comments to the Register, German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a powerful rebuke of the “personal attacks and defamation” launched by dissident leaders of the German Church, and he urged Pope Francis and the “college of cardinals” to curb the capricious “synodal way”.
For its part, the Vatican has publicly defended Benedict XVI’s record as a recognized leader in the fight against abuse, and Archbishop Gänswein revealed in his interview with EWTN that the Holy Father called the pope emeritus to express his dismay at the allegations made against him and later wrote a moving personal letter of support.
To reiterate what was said at the beginning of this commentary: The clerical sexual abuse of minors is an appalling crime that demands vigilance and continued reform.
Acknowledging the ideological character of the invective directed against Benedict after the publication of the Munich investigation’s conclusions in no way minimizes the work that the abuses of the clergy and its cover-up have caused to the child victims.
And with the clarity of hindsight, it is certain that Benedict XVI, like nearly every Church leader of his generation, could and should have done more to address clergy sexual abuse during his tenure as Archbishop of Munich. and next.
Indeed, this has always been the personal objective of Benedict XVI.
While an appendix to Benedict XVI’s response letter to the Munich report refuted investigators’ findings of his actions and guilt, the pope emeritus centered his own remarks on his grief and shame as leader of the Church for the deep and ineradicable hurt that resulted from the sexual assault. abuse and for not striving even more than he did to purge this deep evil from the life of the Church. “In all my encounters, especially during my many apostolic journeys, with victims of sexual abuse by priests, I have seen firsthand the effects of the most serious fault,” he lamented. .
“And I have come to understand that we ourselves are drawn into this grave fault each time we neglect it or fail to confront it with the necessary decision and responsibility, as has happened too often happened and continues to happen.As in these encounters, once again I can only express to all the victims of sexual abuse my deep shame, my deep sorrow and my sincere request for forgiveness.
A spiritual and practical my culpa over the clerical sex abuse scandal must guide continued reform within the Church, not a thinly veiled spirit of dissent aimed at dismantling the fundamental beliefs of our Catholic faith.