Joseph Ratzinger leaves the papacy having failed to achieve what should have been his job one: to rectify the incalculable harm done to the hundreds of thousands of children sexually abused by Catholic priests. He leaves hundreds of culpable bishops in power and a culture of secrecy intact.
Benedict’s apologies to victims were frequent. When he traveled to the US in April 2008, he promised that the Church would do "whatever possible to help, to assist, to heal" victims. In February 2010, meeting with Irish bishops, he called child sexual abuse “heinous.” In his letter to the Irish people in 2010, he expressed “shame and remorse.”
Benedict's words rang hollow. He spoke as a shocked bystander, as if he had just stumbled upon the abuse crisis. But more than anyone in the Vatican, he knew about the damage done to innocent children. As archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Ratzinger had allowed the transfer of accused priest Rev. Peter Hullermann, and certainly managed many other abuse cases as well. Since 1981, when he was named head of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith (CDF), he had been at the center of the Vatican’s abuse bureaucracy, reviewing many files and, unfortunately, implementing Pope John Paul II’s policy of not laicizing abusive priests. In Spring 2001, the Pope gave Cardinal Ratzinger and the CDF sole responsibility for abuse cases, and in that role, Cardinal Ratzinger read hundreds of files and became the Vatican’s most knowledgeable and powerful person on this issue.
The tragedy is that as Pope he could have enacted true reform. He could have forced the immediate resignation of bishops who had enabled sexual predators. He could have decreed that every bishop post on his website the names, assignment histories, and allegations of accused priests. He could have made the CDF transparent in its handling of cases, instead of the black box that it remains to this day. He could have acted on the Vatican’s vast knowledge of these cases, instead of leaving the work to the survivors, investigative reporters, grand juries in the US, and government commissions in Ireland and Australia.
Instead of remedies, he gave us words. Instead of true penitence, he gave us public relations. His failure to enact real change in the Church’s handling of sexually abusive priests will be his significant and shameful legacy.
Launched in 2003 by lay Catholics in Boston, BishopAccountability.org is a comprehensive archive and data center focused on the worldwide sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. It has compiled an online database of 3,800 publicly accused US priests. Its online library contains more than 100,000 pages of church records, legal documents, and media reports. Its mission is to give the public one-stop access to information about the crisis throughout the world. An independent non-profit, BishopAccountability.org is not a victim's group, does not advocate specific church reforms, and is not affiliated with any advocacy or religious group.
Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 781-439-5208
Terence McKiernan, Founder and President, email@example.com, 508-479-9304