Benedict Deserves Better


The NY Times Ross Douthat really understands what I’ve been trying to say about Pope Benedict’s record on the sexual abuse scandal.

The church’s dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul’s friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter’s Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel’s Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul’s inner circle.

Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money “for his charitable use.” The cardinal “was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said, and turned the money down.

This isn’t an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church’s haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.

So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid — the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the church’s bishops, where Benedict’s appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn’t a coincidence that some of the most forthright ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the current pope.

Has Benedict done enough to clean house and show contrition? Alas, no. Has his Vatican responded to the latest swirl of scandal with retrenchment, resentment, and an un-Christian dose of self-pity? Absolutely. Can this pontiff regain the kind of trust and admiration, for himself and for his office, that John Paul II enjoyed? Not a chance.

But as unlikely as it seems today, Benedict may yet deserve to be remembered as the better pope.

Any thoughts?

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19 Comments

  1. I don’t disagree, but I also don’t completely agree.

    What Douthat said is very true. That said, Pope BenedictXVI and his Curia have not done a good job in representing all of this.

    And honestly, with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone now claiming that celibacy is not the issue but potentially homosexuality is, just undermines the Magisterium and Pope Benedict himself.

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  2. I partially agree. But in comparison, he’s done much better than JPII is the main point I’ve been saying.

    Now, could the response be better? Of course! A LOT better.

    Someone really needs to tell Cardinal Bertone to stop talking to the media.

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  3. Via Facebook:

    From Mary Cotter Naughton

    Mike, You can’t be serious! True, JPII was worse, but that’s not saying much.

    Like

  4. Via Facebook:

    From Butler Miller

    I read the op-ed yesterday and to say that he did more than most (all?) at the Vatican, while possibly true, is damning with faint praise.

    Like

  5. Via Facebook:

    From David Dawson:

    While the National Catholic Reporter has zero cred in my opinion as well as the NYT, I agree that Pope Benedict is becoming the stool for other people’s issues. Many think that the Church is run by the Pope in a business manner, but that is incorrect. Each diocese is run by the bishop without much intervention by the Pontiff. Pope Ben has been pastoral, caring, and loving. He hasn’t been the bulldog that the lib catholics were so scared he would be. I remember when he was elected and Catholics in my parish were already condemning him. Not very “Catholic” if you ask me. I also think JPII did more to show the Church and her beauty around the world than any other Pope. He will weather this and life will go on just as it always has. I am curious to see if Richard Dawkins is going to follow through with his planned “arrest” of the Pope. What a creep.

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  6. David–

    The big thing here though is exactly what you cite. Pope Benedict is being accused of actions that he failed to do while Bishop–not as Pope.

    My point here is that his actions as Bishop need to be addressed, but that many of his actions as Pope have been much better than his predecessor with regards to meeting with sexually abused victims, etc.

    The real problem is that there is no immediacy of response from the Vatican which is what people expect.

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  7. Via Facebook:

    David Dawson @ Eileen…..I was voicing my opinion…this thread is not suppose to be about NCR but since it was cited in the article, I felt it was relevant. This is all I am going to say about the NCR, since you asked, and I will not comment about it anymore. I do not wish to take away from Mike’s original intention.
    As far as news, if they stick to it, they have pretty straight forward reporting. However, when it comes to editorials, opinion pieces, or reader’s letters…..
    I will use a reference from a letter by Karl Keating whom I respect:

    James Hitchcock, professor at St. Louis University and one of this country’s top Catholic writers and thinkers, recently had this to say about the “National Catholic Reporter”:

    “For over forty years the NCR’s very reason for existing has been to promote dissent from the official teaching of the Church and, judging from the long columns of letters from readers, the paper primarily appeals to people who have an almost incandescent hatred of ecclesiastical authority.”

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  8. Via Facebook

    From Mike Leach

    “The institutional church is 2000 years old. The human race is 3 million years old. The universe is 15 million years old. How much will the church of just 2,000 years from now resemble the church of today, let alone 3 million years from now? What’s really going on?”

    Like

  9. Via Facebook

    From Mike Young

    “NYTimes has an ax to grind. Bitter, unsubstantiated and unwarranted attacks are unbecoming of “The Gray Lady”

    NYT has a proven record of Catholic Bashing. I don’t see the Washington Post or LA Times so obsessed with an issue.”

    Like

  10. Via Facebook

    From David Dawson:

    “@Mike Leach….sorry, not splitting hairs and I know it has no relevance to your comment, but the universe as far as we can tell is 14 billion years old, not million 🙂 sorry, just an amateur astronomer here ;)”

    Like

  11. Via Facebook:

    From Mike Leach

    “Hey, thanks, Dave, you’re right. Makes the question even more interesting!”

    Like

  12. Via Facebook

    From Connie Lane Neuman

    “Setting up John Paul vs. Benedict is a straw-man battle. Isn’t the point rather to solve the problem of child and teen sexual abuse as it involves our church? Teresa Kettlekamp’s 10 points of prevention distills the U.S. bishops’ Child Protection program and points to that solution — http://www.facebook.com/l/10022;www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2010/10-066.shtml. As for supporting the magisterium, we could use more informed, honest, and mutually respectful dialogue between the hierarchy and laity. (The 14 billion-year old universe blows my mind. Thank God!)”

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  13. I just re-read Mike Leach’s comment. Now that’s an interesting thought that makes my head hurt. But it’s also comforting as 2000 years is a pretty good run.

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  14. Connie–

    Agreed. I’m going to write something on this later this week–about how the clerical hierarchy doesn’t respect the laity and doesn’t want them to be part of their own hierarchical system. Stay tuned.

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  15. Mary N.,

    It may not say much (which kinda was my point) but it says more than what used to happen–which was nothing.

    I think you might be misconstruing my intention here. Pope Benedict needs to own up to his own mistakes from HIS past. But in his present, he’s done a lot more than past Popes have done for sexual abuse victims and we can’t deny that.

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  16. A final media point:

    Would the NYT report on Pope Benedict meeting with a bunch of victims of sex abuse and create headlines just as huge as they are creating about his failures?

    Yes they would. They did so during the USA papal visit–which we have all too easily forgotten. Hence, this post.

    Like

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