As the ugly facts keep turning up, now in Europe, the brushes with the Holy Father are being promoted by many in the secular press, but this wonderful article from the Daily Telegraph puts things into context.
“The fact is that sections of the media will not be happy until they have implicated the Pope in sex-abuse scandals – and if the dots don't quite join up, never mind: it makes good copy and the Successor of Peter isn't going to sue, is he? One Guardian columnist welcomed the news of the Pope's visit with the claim that he had "colluded" in the deaths of millions of Africans. "Don't tread on the corpses," she sneered.
“Mgr Georg Ratzinger, the Pope's ancient older brother, has also been dragged into the spotlight. As head of the Regensburg choir school, he was innocent of any abuse that took place there before his time. But he admitted slapping the occasional wayward choirboy, so naturally he has been thrown to the wolves.
“Yet there are also Catholics – and, again, I'm one of them – who are furious that a culture of secrecy has enabled a small minority of clergy to assault children: generations of children, in some cases, their crimes consistently hushed up by lazy slugs in diocesan offices who would rather expose young people to assault than damage "the good name of the Church".
“As a journalist working in the Catholic media, I've encountered again and again a level of deceit reminiscent of the flunkeys of a tinpot dictator. Charles Chaput, the current Archbishop of Denver, a lonely campaigner against episcopal back-slapping, has condemned the "clericalism, excessive secrecy, 'happy talk' and spin control" that enabled the establishment to move abusers around parishes like pieces on a Monopoly board.
“Russell Shaw, the former director of communications for America's Catholic bishops, has written about the "stifling, deadening misuse of secrecy that does immense harm to the Church". “But Shaw also raises the unfashionable topic of "legitimate secrecy of the kind required to protect confidential records and people's reputations".
“Let me give an example. A priest I know slightly was accused of a sexual crime that he didn't commit. He was removed from his parish so quietly that his parishioners didn't know what was going on. He returned, months later, equally surreptitiously, having been cleared by police. Some of his flock resented the "secrecy". Yet it saved the career and reputation of an innocent man.
“When he was the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer, Cardinal Ratzinger defended and enforced this legitimate secrecy. In 2001, he demanded to be sent bishops' files on accused clergy, because he did not believe the cases were being handled with sufficient rigour. He cited a 1962 document which stressed the need for confidentiality. But – and this point is crucial – Ratzinger used his new jurisdiction to act far more harshly against sex abusers than had their useless local bishops. From that point forward, writes John Allen, an American Catholic journalist, "he and his staff seemed driven by a convert's zeal to clean up the mess".
“What are non-Catholics to make of all this? I'd argue that, like Catholics, they need to resist sweeping conclusions and try to reconcile two truths. The first is that many Catholic bishops, especially in Ireland and America, betrayed children, families and their own good priests by covering up for abusers. The crimes may have reached their peak as long ago as the 1970s, but the culture that enveloped them has yet to be fully dismantled.
“The second is that secularists who despise Catholicism are manipulating tragedies to marginalise Catholics and blacken the name of a Pope, Benedict XVI, who has done far more than his predecessor to root out what he calls the "filth" of sexual abuse. Unfortunately for the Pope, his enemies inside the Church, who include members of the College of Cardinals, are happy for him to take the rap. Ratzinger was never "one of the boys", the "magic circle" of bishops who covered for each other, and now he is paying for it. Expect some judicious leaking of scandals to sympathetic journalists just in time for his visit.
“Ultimately, only the Pope himself can resolve the tension between guilt and innocence, and he needs to act fast. The "Rottweiler" nickname was always misleading, given his personal gentleness, but it would be no bad thing if he launched a ferocious attack on sexual predators and their hand-wringing accomplices in the higher ranks of the clergy.”