Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Archbishop of Westminster: 'secrecy vows should never have happened'

From Times Online March 28, 2010

Archbishop of Westminster: 'secrecy vows should never have happened'

The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, leader of Catholics in England and Wales on The Andrew Marr Show
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent The Archbishop of Westminster has said children should not have been made to swear life-long vows of secrecy as more details of legal cases in which the head of the Irish Catholic Church Cardinal Seán Brady is named as a defendant emerged in Ireland.

Responding to the reports that Cardinal Brady was present when abused children were sworn to secrecy, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said it was wrong for victims to swear secrecy for a lifetime but told the BBC's Andrew Marr show that it was comparable to the secrecy imposed for the purposes of a trial.

"It is like giving victims anonymity in the course of a trial," he said.

However he maintained there was nothing that prevented abuse from being reported to the police. "Since 2001 consistently the Holy See has urged bishops to do that," he told the programme.

Pressure is growing on Cardinal Brady to step down as Ireland's Sunday Independent reported today that he is fighting legal actions brought by five victims of the child rapist Father Brendan Smyth. Three of the cases have been before the High Court for more than a decade.

An investigation is to be launched in Ireland into whether offences were committed by failures to report allegations to the police or to take steps to stop priests raping children. Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony has been brought back to Dublin from his position as head of the garda western region in Galway to head a team to examine files released by the Catholic Church and information uncovered in other garda investigations, and to speak to senior clergy who knew about abusers but did nothing about them.

It was the same newspaper that two weeks ago reported the case of the Cardinal's involvement in interviewing two young boys in 1975 who were raped and abused by Father Smyth. Although this had been discovered a decade earlier, there is anger in Rome that his involvement was not known to the Holy See when Cardinal Brady was appointed coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh in 1994 and formally installed after Cardinal Cahal Daly retired in 1996.

The Times reported on Saturday that Cardinal Brady is under pressure to resign. He is currently using Lent to consider his position and has said he will not make up his mind until Pentecost, at the end of May.

Sources told The Times that his position was increasingly untenable and he should step down for the sake of the Church.

"I think from his language that he's getting ready to go," a source said. "That will be the sea change that is needed in Ireland. The Irish case is very serious. The scale of the problem there is much worse than anywhere else."

There is also anger that Cardinal Brady did not tell Pope he was facing legal proceedings during two days of talks between Benedict XVI the Irish bishops in Rome in February.

Demonstrators at Westminster Cathedral in London called for the Pope himself to step down but Archbishop Nichols dismissed their demands. The Pope is due to visit England and Scotland for four days in September, when he will make a speech at Westminster on the need for moral values in society. The Protest the Pope group believes the Pope is personally responsible for some of the cover up.

However, defenders of Benedict XVI say he is in fact cleaning up the Catholic Church. In his Good Friday meditations shortly before his election in 2005, he personally condemned the "filth" in the Church.

The Pope's recent pastoral letter to the Irish was unprecedented, and by announcing an Apostolic Visitation he effectively placed the Catholic Church there in receivership.

Archbishop Nichols said: "The Pope won't resign. Frankly there's no strong reason for him to do so. In fact it's the other way round. He's the one above all else in Rome who's tackled these things head on."

"What we have done in this country is actually quite instructive. Over ten years have put in place procedures in every parish with external supervision to make sure that any allegations no matter how far back they come from are handled in open and transparent way."

He said England and Wales had not escaped the scandal.

"We've had our fair share of abuse but we've handled it properly. Child abuse is probably the most hidden crime. These things will continue to emerge. But people have to remember that 75 per cent of abuse in this country is within the family. It takes a long time to emerge.

He said just one case of child abuse was enough to create "justifiable anger" but the issue could be tackled.

Archbishop Nichols said he acknowledged the sense of betrayal in the Church felt by victims and their families.

Activist Peter Tatchell, who helped organise the demonstration at Westminster Cathedral, criticised the Pope's 2001 letter to Catholic bishops worldwide when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and head of the disciplinary body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he ordered that child abuse cases be subject to the "pontifical secret".

Mr Tatchell said: "He failed to ensure that priests who raped and sexually abused young people were reported to the police.

"This is why he is not welcome in the UK and why we object to him being honoured with a state visit in September, especially a state visit that is being funded by the taxpayer."

Pope is coming under pressure to call an emergency synod of bishops from around the world to draw up strategy to deal with the crisis. So far, the Vatican's response has been to blame the media.

German bishop accused of beating orphaned girls

From Times Online March 31, 2010

German bishop accused of beating orphaned girls

(Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
The new accusations are a further blow to Pope Benedict XVI
Roger Boyes, Berlin
One of the Pope's closest conservative allies in Germany, Bishop Walter Mixa, has been accused of brutally beating and flogging children in his care.

The Bishop of Augsburg, 68, denies the claims by five former pupils at a Catholic-run orphanage and care facility. But they will be a source of deep embarrassment and concern in the Vatican: Bishop Mixa is part of a conservative axis in Pope Benedict XVI's native Bavaria that has always backed the pontiff in his most controversial decisions, from criticising the violence of Islam in Regensburg cathedral, to rehabilitating the Holocaust-sceptic Bishop Richard Williamson.

Although there are no accusations of sexual abuse at the home – where the bishop was a visiting priest in the 1970s and 1980s – it is clear that Mr Mixa is in trouble.

"Once he took a wooden cooking spoon and beat me until it broke," sais Markus Tagwerk, now 41, who was in the Catholic home between 1972 and 1982.

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"Then he used his hand. He would shout, 'Take this punishment, child of God!' and 'I'll soon drive Satan out of you!'". The beatings were regular and always brutal.

"At least fifty times Mr Mixa pulled down my trousers and beat me on the bottom with a stick, five or six whacks each time," Mr Tagwerk added.

The name Markus Tagwerk is a pseudonym, because the man making the allegations is a teacher.

But others have decided to give their real names and all five accusers have officially notarised their statements.

"It was a terrible blow for me when I saw that Pope Benedict had promoted Mixa to be the Bishop of Augsburg," Hildegard Sedlmair, 48, said.

"He used to rip me out of bed and beat me on the upper arm with a clenched fist."

She and another former pupil, Monika Bernhard, 47, allege that the then priest, backed up by nuns, introduced a "climate of fear".

The blows were always administered in places where the bruising could be hidden – high up on the arm or on the bottom.

One of the victims, a man who is now 44, reports being flogged with a carpet beater, 35 strokes each time.

Angelika Knopf, the pseudonym of a sales assistant in Augsburg, said she was struck as a young teenager ten times with the future bishop's balled fist. "After every punch I fell on to the bed. Mr Mixa demanded that I stand up immediately and would throw another punch," she said.

The orphanage, in the village of Schrobenhausen, has been under different management since 1999 and no complaints have been made public since Mr Mixa moved on and started to rise in the church hierarchy.

It is a measure of the bishop's standing that he has relatively free licence to make outspoken comments about society in and out of the pulpit.

He has railed against the German Government for making "birth machines" out of women. Its plans to expand the crèche network and allow women to return to work smacked, he said, of East German communist practises.

He compared abortion to the Holocaust – a particularly shocking statement when made by a senior cleric in Germany. He also accused Israel of racism in its treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

His view of the latest child abuse scandal sweeping the church was characteristically pugnacious. "The sexual revolution of the 1960s is at least partly to blame for this," he said.

A long-standing member of the child care charity, SOS-Kinderdorf, has come forward to say that at least two of the bishop's accusers relayed their stories to the charity many years ago – long before the current global flood of abuse reports.

"We did not take action then because open criticism can sometimes boomerang against the accusers," a spokeswoman said.

"These are absurd and defamatory statements, " a spokeswoman for the Bishopric of Augsburg said.

The bishop has let it be known that he is considering legal action to defend his reputation.

New abuse cases reported to Catholic Church in Denmark

New abuse cases reported to Catholic Church
Copenhagen Post
Wednesday, 31 March 2010 12:38 KR News .Working group will publish report following abuse investigation but expects more cases to emerge

Four new cases of the sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic Church in Denmark have been reported to a working group investigating the abuse.

The Catholic Church in Denmark bowed to public pressure to investigate previous cases and initially said that four historical cases dating back to the 1800s were under review.

Since the investigative group was set up in recent weeks an additional four cases have been reported to them, dating from the 1960s and 70s.

Priest Niels Engelbrecht said the cases involved indecent exposure and some involved molestation.

Engelbrecht has been in touch with the four victims and said their experiences had had an extremely negative effect on their later lives.

‘As they said, the attacks they were subjected to have, for example, destroyed their ability to have a sex life,’ the priest said.

One of the priests involved is no longer in Denmark and the group is trying to determine if he is still working with the Catholic Church abroad.

Engelbrecht expects more cases will be reported to the investigative group in the future.

‘I don’t want there to be more cases, but if there are, then it’s better that they come forward,’ he said.

The group has not ruled out forwarding the information to the police and said a report of the investigations will be made public when finalised.

Cardinal Sean Brady’s future in doubt as he meets with abuse victims
Cardinal Sean Brady’s future in doubt as he meets with abuse victims
By John Cooney
Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Embattled Cardinal Sean Brady's campaign to stay on as head of the Irish Catholic Church could be decided today when he holds talks in Armagh with victims of child clerical abuse.

Last night John Kelly said he will tell Cardinal Brady that he needs to be “open” about his future.

Mr Kelly said that his group, Soca Ireland, will directly ask the Archbishop of Armagh: “When can we expect his Eminence to bring to an end the speculation about his future as cardinal and Primate of All Ireland?”

The pressure on the 70-year-old Cardinal to offer his resignation to Pope Benedict has been intensive for a fortnight over his involvement in the church cover-up of a serial child abuser.

Cardinal Brady admitted that in 1975 when he was a priest in Co Cavan, he swore two children to secrecy about their abuse by paedophile monk Brendan Smyth.

He asked for forgiveness and said he was ashamed, but would only resign if asked by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Cardinal pleaded to be allowed to stay on as “a wounded healer” to fully implement child protection measures in the Irish Church.

Although Cardinal Brady set himself a deadline for his decision of May 23, Pentecost Sunday, after consulting with friends, clergy and victims as to whether he could remain in office without losing his moral authority, he is under |renewed pressure to bring this date forward.

It is understood that last Thursday the Cardinal issued invitations to a number of victims groups to meet him in his residence.

Included in the Cardinal's busy round of talks will be prominent victims such as Marie Collins and Michael O'Brien.

Asked if SOCA would be calling for the Cardinal's resignation, Mr Kelly said: “Following the meeting we will be holding a news conference.

“I'm sure we may know a bit more if he ends the speculation. We will see what clarification we can get out of him.

“Mr Kelly said that he would tell the Cardinal to back the call by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin for the whole truth to |come out into the open.

“A major concern will be to find out if Pope Benedict supports a national inquiry of all Irish dioceses,” Mr Kelly said.

Mr Kelly added that he would tell Cardinal Brady that television stations around the globe were interviewing Irish victims as abuse cases were emerging in their own countries.

“We will tell the Cardinal that the abuse crisis will get worse for the Vatican and the Catholic Church.”

Priest goes to ground after child concerns
Priest goes to ground after child concerns
Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A Co Tyrone parish priest who was stood down while child safety concerns are investigated has gone to ground.

Fr Sean McEvoy left the parochial house in Aughnacloy at the weekend, and attempts to contact him yesterday were unsuccessful.

Fr McEvoy has been parish priest of Aghaloo for the last six years, and yesterday people in the border community spoke of their shock at the news.

Cardinal Sean Brady told parishioners about his decision to temporarily stand down Fr McEvoy during Mass on Saturday evening.

He said Fr McEvoy had been asked to take a period of leave from his ministry “in the light of information relating to child safeguarding issues”.

It is understood to relate to issues which took place a number of years ago.

Cardinal Brady said Fr McEvoy had agreed to stand down, stating it would allow the civil authorities, who have been informed, to investigate the matter.

“The policy of the Archdiocese of Armagh is that in all matters relating to child safeguarding, the safety and welfare of the child must be our paramount concern,” he told mass-goers.

He said that Fr McEvoy “continues to enjoy the right to the presumption of innocence” whilst the matters are investigated.

Pope comes under fire in new U.S. predator priest case

Pope comes under fire in new U.S. predator priest case
Agence France-PresseMarch 30, 2010

A demonstrator calls for Pope Benedict to resign during a protest outside of Westminster Cathedral in London on Sunday. Pope Benedict, facing one of the gravest crises of his pontificate as a sexual abuse scandal sweeps the Church.
Photograph by: Suzanne Plunkett, ReutersWASHINGTON - The Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI came under fire in the United States Tuesday for allegedly covering up for another predator priest and doing nothing to remove him from ministry.

Documents sent to AFP by lawyers representing a man who claims he was sexually abused as a teen by Father Ernesto Garcia Rubio claim the Papal Nuncio — the Vatican ambassador to the U.S. — asked the church in Miami to protect Garcia after he moved there from Cuba in 1968 after "serious difficulties of a moral nature."

"He was in ministry here in Miami for about 30 years and during that time we know of about a dozen victims that he abused," said Jessica Arbour, an attorney for the unnamed victim and five others who are suing the archdiocese of Miami for alleged abuse between 1977 and 1987.

"There was definitely a concerted effort at all levels — from the Vatican to the archdiocese of Miami and even the Cuban diocese he was originally ordained for — to cover up for and protect this guy.

"At the Vatican's request — they said, 'Please protect him' and that's what they did for 30 years," said Arbour.

The case has been in the Miami court for the past year, and in a statement posted on the Internet, Mary Ross Agosta, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Miami, said Arbour's team did not understand the workings of the church.

"What was not understood . . . is that correspondence with the Church in Cuba always took place and continues to do so through a representative of the Vatican . . . the Apostolic Nuncio," she wrote.

"This type of communication is not unique, but necessary, with countries under political suppression," she said.

The Church was primarily concerned in all cases of alleged child abuse by clergy members "for the victims and a prevailing sense of justice," she added.

Arbour also accused Pope Benedict XVI of "protecting pedophiles at the expense of parishioners and families" when he was head of the Roman Catholic church's moral watchdog, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

When a bishop in the 1990s began the process of defrocking Garcia, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome "lost the paperwork", Arbour said. Garcia is no longer a priest.

The CDF was led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected to the papacy in April 2005 following the death of pope John Paul II.

© Copyright (c) AFP


30 March 2010

The Catholic Church continues to be battered by a slew of sexual abuse allegations, with more charges being levied each week. Prior to becoming pope, the case of the pedophile priest Lawrence Murphy landed on the desk of Bishop Joseph Ratzinger.
Ultimately, the case was dropped.

By Alexander Smoltczyk
Der Spiegel

The case of an American priest who abused deaf children for years has shaken the Vatican. Detailed information about the sexual misconduct of the Rev. Lawrence Murphy went across the desk of Cardinal Ratzinger prior to his papacy. Abuse allegations in Italy are also putting the Catholic Church in an increasingly tough spot.

It is late on a Thursday evening at the Vatican and it is already beginning to look like Easter. St. Peter’s Square is brightly lit, and groups attending a world youth forum are in high spirits as they sing and clap to celebrate their pope, clad in immaculate white, who has just spoken about the “Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin,” behaving “as if nothing at all had happened.”

These are the words of Peter Isely. Standing on a street corner one block away from the spectacle, he is determined to spoil the pope’s festival of redemption. Isely has come to Rome all the way from Milwaukee, in the US state of Wisconsin. He is a 49-year-old psychotherapist with a buzz cut and a question that has been on his mind since he was 13: “Why is my church the only institution where pedophiles continue to be employed?”

This is Isely’s first visit to Rome. Isely and a handful of abuse victims were already standing on St. Peter’s Square in the morning, holding up photos and adding their contribution to the process of drawing His Holiness into the maelstrom of cover-ups and revelations that has confronted the Catholic Church with its most serious crisis in decades. While pots containing olive trees — for Easter — were being unloaded on St. Peter’s Square, Isely talked about “Father” Lawrence Murphy from Milwaukee: “This priest molested more than 200 boys at my school. Joseph Ratzinger is responsible for the fact that Murphy was never defrocked.” Isely says that he doesn’t want him to resign. “I just want him to acknowledge his culpability.”

Ratzinger’s deputy at the time, Tarcisio Bertone (now Vatican state minister),
dropped the case. In a letter to the Archbishop of Milwaukee, where Murphy
was a priest, Bertone wrote, “this Dicastery commends Father Murphy to the
mercy of God and shares with you the hope that the Church will be spared
any undue publicity from this matter.”

He is referring to the current pope. The scandal over child abuse by priests has rocked the Vatican more than the pope’s Regensburg speech, which got him into trouble with Muslims, or the affair involving the Society of St. Pius X and the Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson.

Culprits in the Cassock

“Everyone here is highly alarmed,” says one official at the Curia, adding: “For Benedict, this is the most difficult challenge of his pontificate. This time it’s not about theological or historical interpretation, but about his own outfit.”

And about Benedict himself.

Last Wednesday, the New York Times published documents on the Lawrence Murphy case that Isely’s victims’ rights group had been trying to make public for years. It was only one case among far too many cases. Nevertheless, it is one that casts a light on how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), under the leadership of Joseph Ratzinger, showed more concern for the welfare of culprits in the cassock than for the welfare of abused children.

Between 1950 and 1974, Murphy stalked his pupils and molested them in cars, in dormitories and, in some cases, even in the confessional — a doubly serious offence under Catholic Church law.

Murphy would tell the boys to confess to sexual activities with their peers. Then he would begin touching them, using his hand to masturbate them and himself. Murphy pressured the boys to give him the names of other young sinners, whose beds he would then visit at night. There was no need to be quiet about it, because the boys were all deaf.

In 1974, Murphy was removed from the school “for health reasons” and transferred to a parish in northern Wisconsin, where he apparently continued to have contact with children and adolescents. But the civil authorities also did nothing, and all investigations against Murphy were dropped.

Prayed and Went to Confession

It wasn’t until 20 years later that the church hierarchy became active. In 1993, an expert hired by the church concluded that Murphy had no sense of guilt. The priest told her that he had essentially taken on the sins of the adolescents. He said that if he “played” with the boys once a week, their needs would be satisfied and they wouldn’t have sex with each other. “I sensed whether or not they liked it. And if they didn’t push me away, they must have liked it.” After molesting the boys, Murphy said, he always prayed and went to confession.

In June 1996, the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, turned to the then chairman of the CDF, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Even though it wasn’t until 2001 that the church began requiring that all abuse cases in the global church be reported to the CDF, Ratzinger’s office was responsible, because the “sollicitatio,” or solicitation to commit carnal sin, occurred in the confessional, one of the holiest places in the church. The severity of the case, Weakland wrote, suggested that an internal church trial would be the right approach, a trial that could end in exclusion from the priesthood.

Ratzinger didn’t respond.

In December 1996, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee informed Murphy of its intention to investigate the abuse cases. Only after a second attempt did Weakland receive a response from the Vatican, in March 1997, in the form of a letter from Tarcisio Bertone, Ratzinger’s then deputy at the CDF. Bertone wrote that he recommended an internal church trial based on the laws of 1962, which protects the participants by applying the “Secretum Sancti Officii,” or secrecy on penalty of excommunication.

‘Kind Assistance’

On Jan. 12, 1998, Murphy appealed directly to Cardinal Ratzinger, asking him to stop the proceedings his archdiocese had initiated. The acts of which he was being accused, he wrote, had occurred 25 years earlier: “I am 72 years of age, your Eminence, and am in poor health. I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood. I ask your kind assistance in this matter.”

His wish was fulfilled. In April 1998, Bertone dropped the case against Murphy, in the spirit of forgiveness. In his letter to the Bishop of Superior, Wisconsin, he wrote: “The Congregation invites Your Excellency to give careful consideration to what canon 1341 proposes as pastoral measures destined to obtain the reparation of scandal and the restoration of justice.” The letter ends with Bertone’s best wishes for “a blessed Easter.”

Murphy died five months later, in August 1998. Bertone, for whom this meant that the matter was closed, wrote to the Archbishop of Milwaukee: “This Dicastery commends Father Murphy to the mercy of God and shares with you the hope that the Church will be spared any undue publicity from this matter.”

Today, Tarciso Bertone is the Cardinal Secretary of State, which makes him the second-in-command at the Vatican.

Abuse in the Vatican’s Backyard

“Bertone should not have put an end to such a sensitive case without consulting his superior first,” says abuse victim Peter Isely. “Ratzinger must have concealed the cover-up, just as he must have known about the transfer of pedophile priest Peter H. to Bavaria when he was Archbishop of Munich.”

Commenting last week on the “tragic case of Father Murphy,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi merely said that the CDF “was only informed 20 years after the matter.” He also pointed out that there were never any reports to criminal authorities that would have stood in the way of the Vatican’s recommendation to drop the case because of Murphy’s age.

For this reason, the official Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano denounced the media for what it called “the evident and ignoble intent to wound Benedict XVI and his closest advisers at any cost.”

The Murphy case has clearly struck a nerve. Since it became public, there has been speculation, even within the walls of the Vatican, over Bertone’s possible resignation.

Just Outside the Gates of the Vatican

Benedict’s pontificate set out to strengthen the church through dialogue with the Eastern churches, the traditionalists and Catholics in China. But now Benedict XVI must look on as the temple begins to totter, and as a veritable furor develops against the Roman church, and not just north of the Alps.

A widespread apathy toward all things religious has turned into aggression. Since the most recent revelations, a mood of “reckoning” has prevailed in Italy, writes historian Ernesto Galli della Loggia: “No one is forgiving the priests and the church for anything anymore.”

The Vatican is now deeply concerned that the scandal could continue to spread around the world. Why shouldn’t the abuses that occurred in Irish parishes have happened elsewhere, as well?

The next wave of revelations could begin just outside the gates of the Vatican. Even in Italy, where the majority of youth work is in the hands of the church, the code of silence is beginning to crumble. Victims’ groups have been formed in Sicily, Emilia-Romagna and the country’s northern regions. The groups plan to hold their first conference in Verona in September, under the motto: “I too suffered abuse at the hands of priests.” For years, the Curia in Verona covered up the abuse of deaf-mute children at a school in Chievo on the city’s outskirts.

And what happens if there were also abuse cases in the Diocese of Rome? The pope is the nominal Bishop of Rome. Internet sites are already calling upon Catholics to refuse to pay their voluntary church contribution.

A List of Horrors

A recently published book by an anonymous author, “Il peccato nascosto” (”The Hidden Sin”), enumerates the cases of recent years. It is a list of horrors. For instance, from 1989 to 1994, a priest in Bolzano, Don Giorgio Carli, repeatedly raped a girl who was nine when the abuse began. The relevant bishop refused all cooperation with the courts. Only last year, the priest was declared guilty by a higher court, but by that time the statute of limitations had passed. Today, Don Carli works as a pastor in a village in South Tyrol.

In Palermo alone, a group headed by a priest attended to 824 victims of abuse last year. According to an investigation by the newspaper La Repubblica, more than 40 priests have already been sentenced in sex abuse cases — “and this could be only the tip of the iceberg.”

Nevertheless, Italy’s bishops have yet to form an investigative commission. The “problem was never underestimated” in Italy, a spokesman for the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) explained in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, insisting that the situation is “under control.”

Whatever that means.

Benedict’s pastoral letter speaks a completely different language. With unprecedented openness, the pope writes: “In her (the Church’s) name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.” Critics in Ireland and Germany would have preferred a mea culpa.

‘Listen to the Voice of God’

In November 2002, Joseph Ratzinger refused to admit that there was a crisis. He described the abuse debate in the United States as “intentional, manipulated, (and characterized by) … a desire to discredit the church.”

Now the pope writes, in his pastoral letter, that he intends “to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland.” The term refers to a field audit of sorts, which can take months.

Even critical Vaticanologists concede that the pope, in his last few years at the CDW, made an about-face from a silent Saul to a zero-tolerance Paul. It would appear that Ratzinger, as head of the CDW, read too many dossiers to harbor any further illusions about the state of his church.

The turning point in Ratzinger’s thinking can be precisely dated to April 2003, when he banished Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legion of Christ and a man held in high esteem by Pope John Paul II, to a monastery. Ratzinger had been told that Maciel had allegedly sexually abused minor seminarians.

The pope began Lent this year by saying that it was a time to “return to ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to overcome the temptations of the Evil One and find the truth of our being.”

But for the pope, perhaps the most dangerous demons are the ghosts of his own past, in Munich, Regensburg and Rome.

Benedict wants the crisis to be seen as a test, and as a purification and new beginning. He wants to lead his flock through the desert, presumably until the end of his pontificate.

But after everything that has now come to light — the letters, the accusations, his deputy’s entanglement in the Murphy case — it is unlikely to be a feast of redemption for Pope Benedict this year.

Translated from the German from Christopher Sultan.

Vatican and Pope Stumble in Response to Abuse Crisis

March 30, 2010
Vatican and Pope Stumble in Response to Abuse Crisis
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has been ramping up its defense of how Pope Benedict XVI and the church have handled a growing sexual abuse scandal. But deflecting criticism has proved challenging for this papacy.

Even as the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, has said that the crisis has threatened the “moral credibility” of the church, he acknowledged in an interview this week that he had not personally discussed the abuse crisis with the pope, a fact he attributed to the structure of the Vatican’s communications apparatus.

“The pope has never avoided the problems of the church,” Father Lombardi said of the sexual abuse issue in an interview on Monday. “He has always expressed his very deep pain and his very deep awareness of the seriousness of what has happened.”

That message may not be getting across, Vatican analysts say, partly because Benedict, a reserved theologian long immersed in doctrinal issues, seems to have little interest in communications.

“I don’t think you’ll ever have the Vatican handle something like this the way a big P.R. firm in the States would, with big press conferences,” said an American archbishop who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid ruffling relations with the Holy See. “They’re rather defensive at the moment, convinced it’s a vendetta against the Holy Father.”

Yet at the same time, the archbishop said, entrenched bureaucracy has also made it tougher for the Vatican to make its case publicly. “I just don’t think there’s that much discussion,” he said, adding that there was “not much regard” for “public relations.” He continued, “It’s just kind of a naïveté about how to face these rather significant challenges in a way that will come across to the people in the pews.”

The pressure on Benedict has grown especially intense because of questions over the role of the pope, as an archbishop in Munich three decades ago, in handling the case of a pedophile priest permitted to continue pastoral work. The Vatican has insisted that Benedict bears no responsibility for the matter, and one of his aides has taken the blame.

The Vatican has tended to label such news coverage as “attacks” that “have undoubtedly proved harmful.” But it has declined to discuss his role in the matter in any detail, insisting that the church has already amply demonstrated the pope’s “nonresponsibility” in the matter. “It would not be right for him to take a personal responsibility for things or errors that he didn’t make,” Father Lombardi said in the interview.

By the standards of any secular state or multinational corporation, that response might seem aloof. But by the standards of the Vatican, a slow-moving, bureaucratic monarchy that tends to communicate indirectly and in ciphers — St. Peter’s successor generally does not give news conferences — the response is seen as relatively forceful.

Benedict’s strongest response to the latest crisis was a long letter earlier this month to Roman Catholics in Ireland, following government reports that documented a cover-up of decades of widespread sexual abuse.

In the letter, he spoke of the “serious sins committed against defenseless children,” and he directly blamed Ireland’s bishops. “It must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred,” Benedict said. The pope called for a special Vatican inquiry into unspecified dioceses.

He also accepted the resignation of two Irish bishops, and several others have also offered to resign. But his approach was dismissed as inadequate by some Irish critics, who criticized Benedict for not disciplining bishops complicit in the cover-up.

The pope’s reluctance to advocate specific penalties for bishops who made mistakes in handling such cases has resonance after it emerged that Benedict had been sent a memo about the return to parish work of an abuser priest in Munich while the future pope was archbishop there in 1980. The Vatican has insisted that Benedict did not know that the priest, who went on to molest other children, had returned to work.

Critics of Benedict also have cited the case of a Wisconsin priest and serial molester who was not defrocked despite direct appeals by letter to the future pope, when he headed the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, from the Milwaukee archbishop, according to documents provided by a lawyer suing the church on behalf of victims. The Vatican has said the priest’s advanced age and poor health, plus the many decades that had passed since the abuse, justified his not being dismissed from the clergy.

Benedict’s defenders say he should be credited with overhauling the church’s response to abuse cases and taking specific action in at least one high-profile matter, an investigation into the founder of the Legionaries of Christ religious order, after such cases were consolidated under his control in 2001.

In an interview on Monday, Father Lombardi said he had not discussed the abuse crisis with Benedict. “No, if I have to be honest, no,” he said. But he said it was “something I’ve obviously discussed a lot with the secretary of state in recent weeks,” he said of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, formerly Benedict’s deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“I don’t consider being the pope’s spokesman a personal task, but rather as an institutional one,” Father Lombardi said, adding that he oversaw the Vatican Press Office as well as Vatican Radio.

In many ways, Father Lombardi, a well-intentioned and overextended Jesuit priest, provides a contrast to Pope John Paul’s longtime spokesman, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, a psychiatrist and journalist skilled at shaping a message who was part of John Paul’s inner circle.

“The expectation for a public response from the pope was created by John Paul,” said Paul Elie, the author of a book on 20th-century Catholic writers who has reported from the Vatican. “John Paul said and did so many dramatic things in public that people naturally now expect the pope to act publicly and dramatically in a crisis.”

The pontiff is not so potent

The shape of the world's oldest living bureaucracy, the Catholic church, is very much misunderstood. Guardian
One of the things that both the pope and his enemies agree on in the current crisis looks completely obvious: the Catholic church is a global organisation. It may be the instrument of the salvation of the world, or it may be, in the words of one excited online commenter, the greatest criminal conspiracy in history; but either way it matters, and the pope runs it. What he says goes, and what he believes is what all Catholics ought to believe.

I think that both camps are wrong. Whether or not the church should work like that, it doesn't. At the end of this crisis, this will be still more obviously true: whatever form the church does survive in, it will be more decentralised. But in the meantime, the belief that the Catholic church is an efficient organisation, in the sense that Google or Toyota might be, simply misleads everyone involved.

Because the Catholic church appears to be one global body, the crimes of any Catholic priest anywhere, or at any time, appear to contaminate all of them; the inaction or complicity of any bishop is taken to be the policy of the whole church. To judge from the coverage of the last few months, you would think that in 1970 an Irish orphanage was a more terrible place than a Romanian one. This is clearly absurd, but it is an absurdity that arises naturally from the way that the Catholic church is taken to be a single moral entity in which every part is responsible for the crimes of every other part, and all is centrally directed by the pope.

The Catholic church is certainly the world's oldest living bureaucracy. The Vatican departments are still known by the name of their equivalents in the early years of the Byzantine empire. But does the pope have more power over his subjects than an emperor did? Does he even have the power over his employees that Sergey Brin or Larry Page can exercise? The question answers itself. Although it looks as if the pope can promulgate laws, he cannot see them obeyed. Elected popes (and they are elected, if only by cardinals) wrestle with their civil service just as elected politicians do in the outside world.

The one thing that the pope, and the Vatican as a whole, can do is to appoint and, in case of need, sack bishops. This is a power far beyond that exercised by any other religious leader I can think of – possibly the Mormons have a similar structure – and would be the envy of any archbishop of Canterbury. But it doesn't amount to a great deal. It has certainly made the present crisis worse.

The last great exertion of centralised power in the Catholic church was not, as some people think, the pontificate of John Paul II, which was marked by a disciplinary and doctrinal crackdown, but the reforming Second Vatican Council of the 60s, which John Paul II and his then lieutenant, Cardinal Ratzinger, were trying to control. The council changed the church enormously, largely abolishing the Latin mass and introducing a new freedom and responsiveness to the laity. But it was able to do so precisely because it was a council, in which all the bishops were present or represented. They all owned its decisions. They all, or almost all, put them into action when they returned to their homes.

The council admitted that much of what popes had thought and done in the preceding century had been mistaken. The next three popes have variously struggled against this fact. The first, catastrophic mistake was that of Paul VI, who in 1968 reimposed the traditional ban on contraception.

This was disastrous not because anyone took any notice, but because of the subsequent papal effects to enforce it. Under John Paul II, any expression of doubt in this ludicrous ban would bar a priest from promotion. The result, especially in the Irish church, was the promotion of a generation of men who would put loyalty to an institution ahead of loyalty to the laity.

So the popes got all the bad effects of an organisation – blame-dodging, cowardice and the illusion of power – and none of the real power that might have produced enforceable rules. They thought the way out of this dilemma was to gain more real power. But the Catholic church is built from voluntary bodies today, even if it wasn't in Ireland 50 years ago. If it wants to close the gap between its power and its pretensions, it must adjust its pretensions. A pope who looks for followers will find he's lost his audience.

Should There Be an Inquisition for the Pope?

NY Times
March 31, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
Should There Be an Inquisition for the Pope?

It doesn’t seem right that the Catholic Church is spending Holy Week practicing the unholy art of spin.

Complete with crown-of-thorns imagery, the church has started an Easter public relations blitz defending a pope who went along with the perverse culture of protecting molesters and the church’s reputation rather than abused — and sometimes disabled and disadvantaged — children.

The church gave up its credibility for Lent. Holy Thursday and Good Friday are now becoming Cover-Up Thursday and Blame-Others Friday.

This week of special confessions and penance services is unfolding as the pope resists pressure from Catholics around the globe for his own confession and penance about the cascade of child sexual abuse cases that were ignored, even by a German diocese and Vatican office he ran.

If church fund-raising and contributions dry up, Benedict’s P.R. handlers may yet have to stage a photo-op where he steps out of the priest’s side of the confessional and enters the side where the rest of his fallible flock goes.

Or maybe 30-second spots defending the pope with Benedict’s voice intoning at the end: “I am infallible, and I approve this message.”

Canon 1404 states that “The First See is judged by no one.” But Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as my dad used to say. Somebody has to tell the First See when it’s blind — and mute — to deaf children in America and Italy.

The Vatican is surprised to find itself in this sort of trouble. Officials there could have easily known what was going on all along; archbishops visiting Rome gossip like a sewing circle. The cynical Vatican just didn’t want to deal with it.

And now the church continues to hide behind its mystique. Putting down the catechism, it picked up the Washington P.R. handbook for political sins.

First: Declare any new revelation old and unimportant.

At Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York bemoaned that the “recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.”

A few priests? At this point, it feels like an international battalion.

A re-run of an old story? So sorry to remind you, Archbishop, that one priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, who showed no remorse and suffered no punishment from “Rottweiler” Ratzinger, abused as many as 200 deaf children in Wisconsin.

Archbishop Dolan compared the pope to Jesus, saying he was “now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar,” and “being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.”

Second: Blame somebody else — even if it’s this pope’s popular predecessor, on the fast track to sainthood.

Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn defended Pope Benedict this week, saying that then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s attempt in 1995 to investigate the former archbishop of Vienna for allegedly molesting youths in a monastery was barred by advisers close to Pope John Paul II.

Third: Say black is white.

In his blog, Archbishop Dolan blasted church critics while stating: “The Church needs criticism; we want it; we welcome it; we do a good bit of it ourselves,” adding: “We do not expect any special treatment. bring it on.” Right.

Fourth: Demonize gays, as Karl Rove did in 2004.

In an ad in The Times on Tuesday, Bill Donohue, the Catholic League president, offered this illumination: “The Times continues to editorialize about the ‘pedophilia crisis,’ when all along it’s been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.”

Donohue is still talking about the problem as an indiscretion rather than a crime. If it mostly involves men and boys, that’s partly because priests for many years had unquestioned access to boys.

Fifth: Blame the victims.

“Fr. Lawrence Murphy apparently began his predatory behavior in Wisconsin in the 1950s,” Donohue protested, “yet the victims’ families never contacted the police until the mid-1970s.”

Sixth: Throw gorilla dust.

Donohue asserts that “the common response of all organizations, secular as well as religious,” to abuse cases “was to access therapy and reinstate the patient.” Really? Where in heaven’s name does that information come from? It’s absurd.

And finally, seventh: Use the Cheney omnipotence defense, most famously employed in the Valerie Plame case. Vice President Cheney claimed that his lofty position meant that the very act of spilling a secret, even with dastardly intent, declassified it.

Vatican lawyers will argue in negligence cases brought by abuse victims that the pope has immunity as a head of state and that bishops who allowed an abuse culture, endlessly recirculating like dirty fountain water, were not Vatican employees.

Maybe they worked for Enron.

Archbishop: Mistakes made in priest sex abuse case

Archbishop: Mistakes made in priest sex abuse case
By the CNN Wire Staff
March 31, 2010 4:18 a.m. EDT
The Vatican is under fire for not disciplining Lawrence Murphy after allegations of sexual abuse.
Archbishop apologizes for archdiocese's handling of abusive priest, defends Vatican

Lawrence Murphy is accused of molesting as many as 200 boys

Vatican says it did not know about abuse until decades later
(CNN) -- The archbishop of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, apologized repeatedly Tuesday night for the way his archdiocese handled an abusive priest and he defended the Vatican which has come under fire for not disciplining or defrocking the man.

"Mistakes were made in the Lawrence Murphy case," said Archbishop Jerome Listecki at the end of a special holy week mass at St. John's Cathedral in Milwaukee.

"The mistakes were not made in Rome in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The mistakes were made here, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, by the Church, by civil authorities, by Church officials, and by bishops. And for that, I beg your forgiveness in the name of the Church and in the name of this Archdiocese of Milwaukee."

The now-deceased Murphy is believed to have molested up to 200 boys.

The Vatican says it did not know about the abuse until 20 years after civil authorities investigated and later dropped the case.

However, a recent New York Times story alleged that top Vatican officials, including the future Pope Benedict XVI, failed to act despite warnings from several American bishops.

Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who obtained internal church paperwork, said it "shows a direct line from the victims through the bishops and directly to the man who is now pope."

In his comments Tuesday night, Listecki attempted to shift the blame away from the Pope.

"The Holy Father does not need me to defend him or his decisions," he said. "I believe, and history will confirm, that his actions in responding to this crisis swiftly and decisively and his compassionate response to victims (and) survivors speak for themselves."

Listecki added that measures have now been put in place in his diocese and across the country to protect children from predatory priests.

"Still, we know it is not words, but actions that will demonstrate our resolve," he said. "And, in some ways, regardless of what I say tonight or any other time, our critics will say it is not enough.

"But that cannot and will not prevent me from making every possible effort at moving forward toward healing and resolution with those who have been harmed, and determined to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again."

The apologies are little consolation to many of the victims, three of whom shared their stories on "Larry King Live" Tuesday night.

"These priests have been allowed to abuse children for years. And with the man who is now the pope knowing about what Father Murphy alone was doing, and not doing anything about it? He needs to resign. He has no business being in the position he is in," said Donald Marshall, who said he was abused once during one of Murphy's regular visits to the Lincoln Hills School, a juvenile detention center in Irma in northern Wisconsin.

Most of the alleged abuse took place at the John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis where Murphy began as a teacher in 1950.

He was promoted to run the school in 1963 in spite of the fact that students had warned church officials of molestation, according to documents that CNN has seen.

Gary Smith said his abuse began when he was 12 and continued up until he was 20, about 50 or 60 times.

"He was scared. He didn't know if he should tell anyone," said Gigi Budzinski, who interpreted for Smith during his appearance on King's show.

"He felt like Murphy was so powerful that he couldn't do anything," she said.

Still, Smith and two other classmates eventually reported Murphy to the Milwaukee police.

"They did nothing," said Arthur Budzinski, who said he was abused three times.

Three successive archbishops in Wisconsin were told of the abuse, but none reported it to criminal or civil authorities, said Anderson, who is representing five men who are suing the archdiocese.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, however, said that abuse was reported in fall 1973 to Milwaukee police, who turned the report over to St. Francis police, but no charges were filed.

Murphy was removed in May 1974 as director of the St. John's School for the Deaf, but remained as fundraiser and alumni director until summer 1974, when he was removed from any role at the school, according to a chronology posted on the archdiocese Web site.

In August 1974, a series of newspaper articles in the Milwaukee Sentinel reported on Murphy's removal and the allegations, the chronology said.

A district attorney reviewed the allegations against Murphy in fall 1974. A civil lawsuit was filed in 1975 against the archdiocese relating to Murphy, but was resolved the following year, the chronology said.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who would later become pope, "was not informed of the matter until some 20 years later," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.

The office is in charge of deciding whether accused priests should be given canonical trials and defrocked.

But as part of his lawsuit, Anderson obtained correspondence from Milwaukee to Ratzinger and other internal church documents.

The documents, dating back to 1974, include letters between bishops and the Vatican, victims' affidavits, the handwritten notes of an expert on sexual disorders who interviewed Murphy and minutes of a final Vatican meeting on the case.

Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters about the case in 1996 from Milwaukee's then-archbishop, Rembert G. Weakland.

After eight months, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who at the time was second-in-command of the doctrinal office and now is the Vatican's secretary of state, told Wisconsin bishops to begin a secret canonical trial, the documents show.

By that time, Murphy was in poor health, living in seclusion and had not had any allegations of abuse levied against him for more than 20 years, the Milwaukee archbishop said.

The Congregation suggested that the archbishop restrict Murphy's public ministry and require him to accept full responsibility for his acts.

Murphy died four months later.

"Even though some do not want to hear it or accept it as truth, mistakes were made by law enforcement, medical professionals -- even reporters who helped bring initial stories to light and grappled with how to deal with perpetrators," Listecki said Tuesday night. "We have all learned so much."

German bishop accused of physical abuse of children

German bishop accused of physical abuse of children
March 31, 2010
Three women and two men who were former residents of a Catholic children’s home have accused Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg of physically abusing them in the 1970s and 1980s. Calling the allegations “absurd, untrue, and obviously invented to defame the bishop,” a diocesan spokesman said that the diocese reserved the right to take press charges or file a civil suit against the accusers.

The nation’s justice minister criticized Bishop Mixa in February after he attributed the abuse scandal in part to the sexual revolution. Bishop Mixa also serves as the bishop of the nation’s military.

Nothing but the truth

Nothing but the truth
Monday, March 29, 2010
By Catholic News S...
A U.S. Catholic interview

Judge Anne M. Burke reviewed her years monitoring the U.S. church's response to the clergy sex abuse crisis.
As the wife of a veteran Chicago alderman, Judge Anne M. Burke has seen her share of political intrigue up close. But not even Chicago politics, she says, adequately prepared her for the "medieval, certainly Byzantine machinations" she encountered during the two and a half years she served on the National Review Board.

The U.S. bishops appointed this 13-member board of lay Catholics at the height of the clergy sex abuse crisis to oversee their compliance with the reforms they had pledged to institute. But many of the bishops, it seems, were surprised when the board took its job seriously and went to work. Accustomed to having laypeople only give them advice they could choose to follow or ignore, some bishops were taken aback when the board publicly called them to task for foot-dragging or for efforts to obstruct or circumvent agreed-upon processes.

As the board's interim chair--following former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating's resignation in June 2003--Burke spoke out forcefully when several bishops tried to postpone the second nationwide audit of diocesan compliance and when, contrary to previous commitments, they tried to appoint a woman religious to the lay board.

While facing opposition from some of the bishops, Burke, who left the board in November 2004, also has won fans in their ranks. One bishop recently even compared her to St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th-century saint known for pleading with Pope Gregory XI to reform the clergy.

Burke is a judge of the Appellate Court of Illinois in Chicago [2010 update: She is now an Illinois Supreme Court Justice] and has been an advocate for child welfare for many years. In 1968 she organized the first-ever Special Olympics, and, before joining the appellate court, she served as the Illinois governor's Special Counsel for Child Welfare Services.

You've said you used to be more of a "passive Catholic" but have come to realize that we can't afford to be passive Catholics anymore. What do you mean by that?

What I mean by "passive Catholic" is that we were all-those of us in a certain age group anyway-brought up to expect that the pope, our bishop, and our pastor told us what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. My job was just to agree to it, and I didn't see any reason not to.

I was active in many charitable organizations, and most of them were Catholic. But I primarily viewed being a good Catholic as going to church every Sunday and raising my children Catholic. I think most of my friends were the same way. If we were asked, we'd "help out" at church, for example with a Mardi Gras or at bingo or at the soup kitchen, but we weren't sufficiently actively engaged in our church.

Around the country today there are pockets of a different kind of Catholicism, where people want to actively take part in the church's decision-making. Whether it's Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful, or other groups, I think we all should have a voice in the church and have an opportunity to contribute our ideas about how to make it better.

I think that passivity on the part of us laypeople contributed to the crisis of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. It was happening right under our noses the whole time, but since we weren't involved, we didn't see it and those who did see it didn't know what to do about it.

Having served on the National Review Board, I feel I have to speak out about what I know. I don't like what I know, and I'm very upset about it. As a result, I could never be as passive a Catholic as I was before. I don't think anybody could have been prepared for what we've had to go through for the past 30 months.

Was what you learned disillusioning?

First of all, let me acknowledge that the bishops really took an extraordinary risk when they enacted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People at their meeting two and a half years ago in Dallas. But I don't think they thought through what its implementation would mean for them.

The charter is a wonderful document-a Rosetta stone or Magna Carta if you will. It has some flaws because it was written in haste, and it may need to be reviewed and its language tweaked, but it is a great document. It says what bishops should have agreed to a long time ago: that laypeople should oversee an audit to make sure our dioceses are safe.

When we were charged with overseeing the newly formed Office of Child and Youth Protection, that included three specific tasks: that "safe environment" programs were to be put in place in each diocese, that a compliance audit was to be done in each diocese, and that we were to present to the bishops a public annual report on the compliance of each diocese with the provisions of the charter. In effect that meant we were overseeing what the bishops were doing, and I don't think they realized that until we started our work.

Many bishops seemed to have major second thoughts about the process because from the beginning we had trouble getting them to work with us. They'd tell us that they didn't like the kind of audit we were planning or that the language wasn't canonically correct. Granted, it's not a canonical document, but it's not meant to be. It's just a compliance audit.

When the auditors traveled around the country to conduct the audit with different bishops, it was often difficult to get the bishops to answer their questions. That was quite disturbing to us because they had been the ones who had asked to have the audit done. But I don't think many of them understood what they had voted for.

I know that in their heart of hearts, yes, the bishops want children safe, but not at the expense of other things.

Where did the bishops' resistance come from?

I think what happened was that, from day one, the bishops and our board never agreed on what we were to do. And it is hard when you're coming out of the gate on two different paths. Eventually they realized they had created a board of prominent and respected laypeople, had given us a job to do, and we were now going to do it without their control.

Generally when bishops have a board, it's to help them in an advisory capacity. While we report to the bishops and are in a sense advisory, the charter also asked us to do something that had a little meat to it.

One bishop was even quoted as saying that your board would be the "downfall of the church."

We did hear that from one bishop during a meeting with our board, although he later told me that he didn't really mean it. At the time it was very discouraging. It was too bad that some bishops felt this way because it seemed to signal that they saw no light at the end of the tunnel. By contrast I really look at this process as an opportunity for something positive to come out of this crisis. Our work is not the downfall of the Catholic Church.
I think what some were nervous about-and to some degree understandably so-were the reports that were still forthcoming then: the audit, the John Jay study, and our board's report. They were scared about what was going to be revealed in those reports. We were all nervous about that.

But aren't you scared when you go to Confession, too? You feel sad about sins you have committed and sad about things you may have failed to do. But you have to get over it. You get it all out in Confession, and then you feel better.

I think a lot of the animosity toward us came from the fact that bishops were frustrated because of their lack of control. Here was a group of laypeople that had information that they didn't have.

How did you go about setting the agenda for the work of the board?

The bishops' conference didn't give us very specific directions. So when we first met, we looked at what the charter asked us to do, went to work, and started to make decisions.

We decided that we had to have a "Chinese wall" between the bishops and us. That's a term that means you have to keep the different sides apart. We had enough people saying that because we were appointed by the bishops, we were just rubber-stamping their decisions. That was not true at all.

But we also needed to be independent from advocacy groups like Voice of the Faithful or Call to Action or SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). We couldn't be seen as being beholden to a group's agenda.

We conducted a national search for the head of the newly created Office of Child and Youth Protection. We wanted a good Catholic with a strong law-enforcement background and found that in Kathleen McChesney. We submitted her name to the bishops, and they appointed her. She, too, just started to do her work, and we worked very well together.

At the same time we set up subcommittees on the research studies. For the statistical analysis we settled on a secular university, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Then when we looked at commissioning the study that was supposed to get at the causes and context of the clergy sex-abuse crisis, we found we really didn't have enough information. Bob Bennett said, "When you have a court case, what do you do? You do depositions."

That's how we decided to interview more than 100 people. We felt we as a board needed to be informed about the culture that allowed this abuse to happen and the context in which it happened. So we talked to a broad range of people-from offenders to victims; from psychiatrists to journalists; from left to right; from cardinals to priests, women religious, and laypeople; Catholics and non-Catholics.

As we were collecting this information, we realized that the National Review Board really had not been given a voice. We weren't asked to give a report. But we felt we needed to capture what we were learning. That's when we decided to do the first part of the "causes and context" report as our own board report.

We also felt that based on the information we learned we had to make some recommendations-nonscientific and preliminary as they might be.

What is your own conclusion about the primary causes of the sex-abuse crisis?

Of course, the primary cause is the criminal sexual assault of minors by Roman Catholic clergy. But the ecclesial mismanagement and the omissions of our church leaders were crimes as well. Too many bishops really did not proceed in a common-sense way.

It doesn't take a lawyer to figure out that when somebody has committed a crime, you've got to turn them in. We all know that. In fact, the church taught us that. That in itself is mind-boggling: Here we were taught as children what to do-how to be good, moral, ethical people, and that if you see something bad, you've got to tell your mom and dad or call the police-we were trained to do that by the very people who completely failed to do that themselves.

But why did they fail to do that?

The reasons included fear of litigation, fear of scandal, wanting to protect their priests, and some of it, I think, was just plain incompetence. When asked about it, they'll say, "Well, I relied on the doctors, I relied on the lawyers." Our response to that is: But you were the decision-maker. I can go to a doctor and then to another one to get a second opinion and to a third for yet a different one, but I still have to make the decision which doctor I'm going to choose.

When you have a crime confronting you and a psychiatrist says the perpetrator will be OK for ministry, you still have to go back to the crime itself. That priest might or might not be helped at some point, but why didn't you call the police on this horrible crime you knew about? They have no answer for that. No answer.

The people you interviewed gave you a broad range of answers on underlying issues: homosexuality, the "culture of dissent," celibacy, church governance, psychological issues, seminary formation.

What we say is that celibacy or homosexuality are not the causes of the crisis, but they may very well be major contributing factors. And that's why a second, much more in-depth study has to be done. It's probably a combination of a number of those things.

Criminal sexual assault against minors really is a major national health crisis and is not limited to the church. Every day we read about another sexual assault against a child. It's pervasive in the children's cases here in my court, and so much of it is still unreported.

We still need to study a lot more about all three aspects: the offender, the victim, and the environment. Within that triangle there are many different profiles for the offender, many profiles for the victim, and the environment generally involves some sort of authority or control relationship of a teacher, coach, or priest working with a minor.

This next in-depth study will provide a great service to the larger society. Across the board all kinds of people are looking for this work to be done.

Is that kind of study going to happen for sure?

It's going to be as sure as we laity make it, and that puts the responsibility back on the laity again. The bishops said they were going to do it, but we've got to ensure that they do it. We've moved this process along this far in spite of their foot-dragging.

Many bishops don't want to do this study because they're going to have to give offenders' names to the researchers and provide cooperation. And it's going to cost money.

From the preliminary interviews we have conducted with research institutions, we estimate it would take $3 million to $4 million over three to four years. There are many Catholic laypeople and organizations who would be happy to help with the funding, but I don't want them to. The bishops said they were going to do it, so they should. Otherwise they won't have a vested interest in this.

When you encountered the kind of "foot-dragging" you mentioned, what leverage did you have other than public pressure?

None. But that pressure is powerful. Just look at what the Boston laity did to remove Cardinal Bernard Law. It is very powerful, and that's also why the press is so important.

When it became necessary we were very vocal. We're a policy-making board, but we also weren't afraid to confront individual bishops when they said or did something that was in violation of what we believed the charter said.

For instance, New York's Cardinal Edward Egan tried to keep the board from holding a meeting in New York. But we went ahead anyway, even though he refused to say Mass for us, as did Archbishop Eusebius Beltran in Oklahoma. But in those cases we spoke out publicly. There were other battles that we didn't speak out about, but our job wasn't to be a prosecutorial board, and it still isn't.

We were very clear in our report about the need for accountability among bishops and proposed greater use of the metropolitan bishop's office for "fraternal correction." [A "metropolitan bishop" is an archbishop who has some authority over the other bishops in his province.] In fact, that idea was later picked up by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in a letter to every bishop in the United States. We had met with him in Rome in January. Rome listened.

There were a number of other bishops who shielded priests who were repeat offenders. Why aren't they being made to resign?

I think that comes back to passive Catholicism: Why do we let them hang on? The laity in Boston did something about it. Others could do that as well.

On the National Review Board we're not in a position to hold anybody accountable except in the public realm on policy issues. If the people in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska don't mind that Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz refused to participate in the John Jay study and threatened to sue the National Review Board, then that's what they want. There's nothing I can do about it.

But even when they organize, ultimately laypeople don't have the power to tell their bishop, "You're fired."

No, they don't have the power to say that, but in these dioceses the bishop has to know that he's not trusted and the laity aren't going to respect him.

One bishop told our board last summer (and I think he's right): "You're wasting your energy and frustration on trying to change something that's not capable of changing. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, so you may need to free yourself of that frustration and find other areas in which you can be effective."

That's why I keep saying, yes, there needs to be accountability, but is that our ultimate goal here? Sure, it would probably still be good for a few more bishops to step down, but that may not happen. In a way the accountability issue takes care of itself by the loss of that bishop's reputation and authority. What's really important is that we go forward and not let it happen again.

We also need to hold up as models the good pastors and bishops like Bishop John D'Arcy in Fort Wayne. He's been a real hero in all of this. Had they listened to him early on in Boston, hundreds of children would not have been abused. He knew right from wrong, and as a result they shipped him out of Boston.

One major piece of the response to the crisis has been the zero tolerance policy, which was controversial from the beginning and is again being criticized. What will be happening with that policy?

Due process is important, and zero tolerance is very difficult. We dealt with it as a board, and I remain convinced that it's the right thing for the present time.

It's difficult because one penalty doesn't fit all, but in the face of the inability of too many bishops to make the right decisions we have to have it. If it were left up to the bishop to make the call, I think eventually we'd end up in the same mess we were in before.

Has your serving on the board affected your faith at all?

I'm more invigorated about my faith. It was really a kind of renewal for me-and at my age I'm surprised I can renew anything.

Surely this has not been the first big crisis the church has gone through. This one just happens to be in our lifetime. In a way it's a miracle that the church has survived for all these years, but the reason it has is because through the ages concerned people stepped up and did what needed to be done.

The Holy Spirit must have had a hand in getting this mess out in the open, forcing us to deal with it and do something about it. It could not go on with all this suffering.

Despite your work on the board having been such a struggle, did you also see signs of hope?

I am encouraged because this is a defining time in the Catholic Church. It's been a terrible time, but I believe good will come out of this. Even just the existence of this lay review board has been an unbelievable sign of hope. Did you think the bishops would ever have such a substantive lay board? I believe that was the work of the Holy Spirit.

None of us on the board knew each other before, but we became like family. Individually and collectively these people are outstanding. There is still more to be done in monitoring the bishops, making sure they follow through with the recommendations, but to me the exciting good news has been this lay board-the great people and the work we did together.

I think this time is an opportunity for us all to start using the talents of Catholic laypeople in the United States, not just for this issue, but all across the life of our church, particularly in our local parishes.

It's one thing to be wrestling with the bishops nationally, but that's not where it counts. It's about getting our young people involved through service, spirituality, and more ethical living. That's what will revitalize the Catholic Church.

This article appeared in the January 2005 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 70, No. 1, pages 12-17).

'Abuse tsunami'

'Abuse tsunami'
A painful chronology of the crisis sweeping over Germany, Austria and Switzerland
Mar. 30, 2010
By Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

The Benedictine Monastery of Ettal, Germany: One hundred former pupils at the monastery’s school have accused former teachers of sexual abuse and excessive brutality. (AP/Dapd/Christof Stache)

News of the long-standing, systematic abuse of pupils by Jesuit teachers at prestigious schools in Germany in the 1970s and ’80s first hit world headlines Jan. 29, when Jesuit Fr. Klaus Mertes, rector since 1994 of the “Canisius-Kolleg,” an elite Jesuit high school in Berlin, broke the story to the press.

While both the Vatican and the order had known of the abuse, the accusations had been suppressed. Mertes said two abuse victims had approached him six years ago, but both had begged him not to tell anyone about the abuse and so he did not report it at the time.

When, however, five more pupils turned to him after an alumni reunion in December 2009 and several more in January this year, he decided to write to 500 alumni.

“I am deeply shocked and shamed by these appalling assaults, which were not single incidents but took place systematically over several years,” he wrote. He asked any pupils concerned, or who had observed anything, to come forward. Twenty-two pupils wrote to say they had been abused but over a hundred have since reported to the Jesuit order’s attorney for sexual abuse cases.

Two days later, Jesuit Fr. Hans Joachim Martin, the former headmaster of St. Blasien, another elite Jesuit school in the Black Forest, informed the German Catholic Press Agency that in the 1970s one of the Jesuit teachers who had abused boys at the Canisius College in Berlin had been moved to St. Blasien, but the school had not been informed of his “criminal past.” He had continued to seriously abuse boys at St. Blasien but the abuse “was always swept under the table,” Martin said.

That same day, Fr. Stefan Dartmann, the Jesuit provincial in Germany, spoke at a news conference, begging forgiveness. “We are faced with the gnawing question as to why these incidents did not come to light at the time. The correct thing would have been to notify the prosecuting authorities,” he said.

The abuser, Martin Statt, who left the Jesuit order in 1992 and now lives in South America, wrote a letter of apology to his former pupil-victims at the end of January, admitting that he had abused children and young people for years, but insisted in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel that he had informed both his order and the Vatican in detail of his abuse problem when he applied for laicization in the ’90s.

The Statt case was just the beginning. From then on, hardly a day passed without new cases of sex abuse in church institutions coming to light.

In the first week of February Der Spiegel conducted a survey across Germany’s 27 Catholic dioceses to investigate the prevalence of suspected abuse by priests and church employees. Some 24 of the 27 dioceses responded. According to the findings, 94 priests and church employees had been suspected of sexually abusing minors since 1995. Thirty of them had been tried and sentenced but many cases were barred because of legal difficulties.

By this time a third prominent Jesuit school was affected. After two victims came forward claiming to have been abused at the well-known St. Aloysius’ Jesuit College at Bonn, the principal, Fr. Theo Schneider, informed the Jesuit provincial that he was stepping down until all cases of sexual abuse at the school had been clarified.

Individual German bishops and senior churchmen began to speak out. “This is quite, quite terrible. It has bowled me over,” Archbishop Werner Thissen of Hamburg said, referring to abuse cases at the Sankt Ansgar Jesuit school in Hamburg. Bishop Norbert Trelle of Hildesheim said the abuse cases filled him with shame and in a pastoral letter read from all churches in his diocese he appealed to any further victims to come forward. But Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg, a staunch conservative, claimed that the sexual revolution that had begun in 1968 was partly to blame for the abuse.

The most open admission of the church’s guilt was by the provost of Hanover Cathedral, Fr. Martin Tenge, who said in a sermon to the thousands who had gathered in his cathedral, “The whole institution [of the church] is to blame, as it is responsible for creating a mentality of ‘Please don’t talk about it.’ We owe deep apologies to the victims. I know several priests who were guilty of sexually abusing minors, I also personally know the victims, and I know some who are both victims and perpetrators. I think it quite right that the victims are furious and are venting their fury on the church.”

The president of the German bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, remained silent for three weeks. Apparently the bishops had agreed not to speak out until after their plenary Feb. 22-25, a decision that Archbishop Reinhard Marx of Munich later said had perhaps been “unwise.” After the plenary, Zollitsch broadcast a terse official apology to the victims. Politicians were now involved as the German minister of justice demanded that the bishops take immediate steps to clear up the crisis and discuss compensation for the victims.

Protestors demonstrate against sexual abuse in the Catholic church at the beginning of the German bishops' conference meeting in Freiburg Feb. 22. (APN/Winfried Rothermel)The bishops announced that Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier had been appointed special coordinator for abuse cases; a hotline for all questions related to abuse would be installed; the bishops would seek contact with victims’ associations; and the bishops’ conference would update its 2002 guidelines. There would, however, be no automatic reporting to the police, Zollitsch said. The church would first examine each reported case internally and then do its best to persuade the victim and the perpetrator to contact the police. He also rejected suggestions to set up a compensation fund for victims.

By the first week of March, more than 300 abuse victims from Catholic institutions in 22 dioceses had come forward and at least 10 religious orders were involved. The tidal wave had also reached Bavaria, homeland of Pope Benedict XVI. A massive abuse scandal hit the Benedictine Monastery of Ettal in Bavaria in the first week of March. One hundred former pupils accused former teachers not only of sexual abuse but also of excessive brutality. The Munich archdiocese asked Abbott Barnabas Boegle and Headmaster Fr. Maurus Krass to step down and police raided the monastery. The monastery has now asked the pope for a visitation.

And Germany’s oldest choir, the “Regensburger Domspatzen” where the pope’s 86-year-old brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, was master of choristers from 1964 to 1994, was also involved. A former headmaster of the school where the choristers boarded was accused of sexual abuse and excessive corporal punishment in the 1960s. Msgr. Ratzinger said he had never heard anything about sexual abuse but admitted occasionally slapping pupils.

On March 12, the same day that Zollitsch met Benedict to discuss the scandal, a German daily revealed that in 1980, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was archbishop of Munich, he gave permission for Fr. Peter Hullinger, who had been accused of sexually abusing minors in Essen in northwest Germany, to be rehoused in the Munich archdiocese for therapy. (See accompanying story on Page 7.) The vicar general, Gerhard Gruber, moved Hullinger to a parish “as, except for one hour’s therapy, we didn’t want him to have nothing to do all day.” Hullinger later again abused minors -- but that was after Ratzinger had left Munich for Rome in 1982. Even after having been convicted in a German court, Hullinger continued working with children and young people and was not suspended until the story came to light this March. Fr. Joseph Obermeier, priest of the Munich Cathedral and head of the archdiocese’s pastoral department responsible for Hullinger, has since handed in his resignation.

That brings us to Austria. When they met for their plenary in the first week of March, the president of the Austrian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, recalled that in 1995, the Austrian church went through the Groër affair, when the then-archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër, stepped down after being accused of sexually abusing a minor. A year later the first ombudsman for church abuse victims was appointed in the Vienna archdiocese and the other Austrian dioceses have since followed Vienna’s example.

However, on March 8 of this year, the archabbot of St. Peter’s in Salzburg, one of the oldest Benedictine abbeys in the world, resigned after admitting that he had abused a 12-year-old boy 40 years ago, and victims in Austria began to come forward.

On March 11, Schönborn first used the word “abuse tsunami” to describe the crisis sweeping over the German-speaking countries. The number of victims is thought to be approaching 400, at least 12 religious orders are involved, and seven high-ranking churchmen in Germany and one in Austria have resigned. Rumours that thousands are leaving the church abound. (German and Austrian Catholics have to pay compulsory church tax, which is the equivalent of 8 percent of income tax in Germany and a little over 1 percent in Austria. If they fail to do so the church can and does sue them. But they can “sign out” at their local municipal authority, which means they no longer have to pay tax but from then on they can no longer receive the sacraments or have a Catholic burial.)

Meanwhile, the abuse crisis reached Switzerland in mid-March, where 60 suspected cases committed over the past 15 years have come to light. The Swiss bishops’ conference is looking into them. As in Germany and Austria, suspects do not have to be reported to the prosecuting authorities in Switzerland.

There is a little light at the end of the tunnel, however. The Bavarian bishops’ conference decided at its plenary in March that from now on abuse suspects should be reported to the police immediately. Roundtable talks between the church, politicians and all groups in society concerned are to be held in both Germany and Austria within the next few weeks. Whether abuse victims’ associations will be included in the talks still remains open, however. The Jesuit order and the German bishops are still reluctant to discuss compensation, but Schönborn has suggested that the perpetrators should pay. As a large proportion are religious and have taken a vow of poverty, this would involve the religious orders.

The general mood among Catholics in Central Europe is one of gloom. They are particularly disappointed that the pope did not even mention the German crisis in his letter about the crisis in Ireland. To many of them it seems that the walls of their church as an institution are crumbling.

[Christa Pongratz-Lippitt is correspondent in Vienna, Austria, for the London-based Catholic newspaper The Tablet.]

What a difference a week makes

What a difference a week makes
Mar. 29, 2010
By Sr. Maureen Paul Turlish
I had been out of the loop, as it were, since Monday, March 22, when I left for Alabama to attend the 26th annual symposium on child abuse sponsored by the National Children's Advocacy Center headquartered in Huntsville. I made the mistake of not taking my laptop, thinking that I could check my e-mail on the hotel's computer. That did not work out.

As a result, I couldn't open my e-mail, couldn't read The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Tablet of London, or even National Catholic Reporter.

I was in the dark until early afternoon Thursday while I waited for my connecting flight from Washington to Philadelphia. That was when I caught some news from CNN and I realized that that sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy was all over the news..

What a difference a week makes!

I immediately began calling friends in Delaware and Philadelphia to find out what was going on at the Holy See, with the pope and what was all this about deaf children in Wisconsin?

What a difference a week makes.

I yearned to know what was happening in Rome.

On the plane out of Washington, a young man sat next to me on the aisle side. He initiated our hour-long conversation by smiling broadly as he read the title of the book on my lap, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church, by Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, and with a little laugh he asked "Are you a nun?"

My traveling companion turned out to be a Catholic church worker. We talked about the Catholic church's continuing credibility problems caused by real or perceived shortcomings in the institution's promises of accountability and transparency.

He filled me in on reports of what had happened over the preceding few days and of the possible connections with Pope Benedict XVI.

I had a copy of the pope's pastoral letter to the people of Ireland that I had tucked into my briefcase before leaving for Alabama, hoping that I would get a chance to study it more carefully during the week. I told my companion about the what I knew of Benedict's pastoral, situating it into what I knew of the problems in Ireland from the victims I had been in contact with there.

I have been increasingly involved in supporting survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church since 2002. As I read the Irish pastoral letter, I looked for key words and phrases, to see which appeared and which were missing.

"Justice," for example was mentioned three or four times, but "collusion," as in between church authorities and government officials in Ireland, was not mentioned.

Vatican II was blamed, as were the priests and religious who had become "too worldly." Minimizing and rationalizing seem to be the preferred public relations spin for the Holy See's communications department.

What is not in this document is more important than what was included.

There was absolutely no connection made between what was unearthed in Ireland with what has happened in other countries. The pope made clear that this was an Irish problem that the bishops and priests of Ireland were expected to handle.

There was no acknowledgment of the epidemic or pandemic nature of the problem of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic church nor was there any puzzlement expressed as to how or why this had happened in the United States, Canada, Australia or anywhere else as it had happened in Ireland.

Now those kinds of connections were being made widely in numerous media accounts. And even more questions were being raised. Questions we activists have long asked were being asked by the general public.

If the church has lost its way, why and how did that happen? What contributed to it? What structures supported and enabled it?

Why did bishops in the United States as in Ireland, Germany and elsewhere, make conscious, informed decisions to protect sexual predators? Why did they not only dismiss victims and their families who approached church authorities, but in at least some cases threatened, harassed, intimidated, shunned and -- in some jurisdictions in the United States -- even threatened them with lawsuits?

In the post 2002 era in the United States, the bishops have promised accountability and transparency, but what that covers and how has been left to the discretion of individual bishops. Why is this?

As a result there is no national church registry of clergy who have been removed from ministry or where they are located. Registries of convicted, known or credibly accused sexual predators are practically non-existent on diocesan Web sites. Why?

In state jurisdictions where bills have been introduced to expand on or remove statutes of limitation on the sexual abuse of children, bishops and state Catholic Conferences have been vicious in their lobbying efforts against proposed legislation. Why?

Our flight to Philadelphia was much too short for our conversation.

Why couldn't it have been a flight to Rome?

[Maureen Paul Turlish is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.]

Church reformers have second thoughts on pope

Church reformers have second thoughts on pope
Mar. 30, 2010
By Jeff Diamant, Religion News Service

Robert S. Bennett and Justice Anne M. Burke at a meeting of the National Review Board in 2004. (CNS file photo)

To many advocates of reform in the Catholic church, the election of conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope in April 2005 was a blow to hopes the Vatican would change positions on gender, sexuality, divorce, and the church hierarchy.

Yet the result encouraged three prominent reformers who were appointed to a U.S. bishops' National Review Board. The three American Catholics -- a judge, an attorney and a newspaper publisher -- were concerned mainly with the clergy sex scandal.

They had met with Ratzinger in his Vatican office in 2004 for an extensive discussion on the cover-ups of clergy sex abuse of children, and came to view Ratzinger as the best churchman anywhere on the issue. A year later, when he became Pope Benedict XVI, they were often quoted praising him in American news articles.

But that was then.

The recent clamor over media revelations about two priests whose abuse cases were adjudicated under Ratzinger's watch have led two of the three panel members who met with Ratzinger to reconsider their views.

"I felt, as did some of the other members, that he would be 'on' this issue," said Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, a panel member from 2002 through 2005. "So for me to be reading this ... has been very disheartening."

Three weeks ago, a German newspaper revealed that in 1980, church authorities in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, where Ratzinger was archbishop, had let a molester of children return to ministry after therapy. The priest later molested again.

Then, The New York Times reported an elderly priest from Milwaukee who had abused scores of deaf children was spared a canonical trial after pleading with Ratzinger in May 1998 to let him die as a priest. (He died four months later.)

"What is coming out now is enormously troubling," said Washington power attorney Robert Bennett. "I'm enormously disappointed that this is such a worldwide problem."

The U.S. scandal centered on revelations that bishops covered up for priests who had sexually abused minors by failing to report the crimes to law enforcement and not telling their new parishioners about their pasts.

Starting in 2001, Ratzinger, as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reviewed each case file of every priest facing accusations. So when Burke, Bennett and newspaper publisher William Burleigh met with Ratzinger on Jan. 25, 2004, across from him and six staff members in his Vatican office, they were probably talking to the best informed person anywhere on the issue.

The three of them, representing the panel, described the scope of the problem in the United States.

"We spent ... almost 2 1/2 hours with him," Burke said, "and discussed every aspect of the sex-abuse crisis in America: the cases pending, cases that would be coming, the obstructionist attitude of some of the bishops in the U.S. [keeping us from] getting information and proceeding."

In the months afterward, the Vatican announced an extensive review of U.S. seminaries, which the trio had discussed with him, Burke said. And Ratzinger urged American bishops to collaborate with neighboring bishops on procedures for dealing with sex abuse rather than working entirely on their own, a subject the American visitors had also discussed, Burke said.

At the meeting, "there was no indication that he would be the next pope," Burke said. "But my hope was, because he was in a position to actually effect change and bring something about, it gave us hope. And then when he did become pope I was ecstatic."

The Vatican says the recent criticism is undeserved. It says Vatican officials didn't learn of the Milwaukee abuse until decades after it started, because three different Milwaukee bishops failed to report it sooner. And Ratzinger's underling when he served in Munich in the 1970s says he reinstated the abusive priest without telling Ratzinger.

Burleigh, the former president of E.W Scripps Co., owner of a chain of American newspapers, said he is inclined to believe the Vatican explanation.

"I think he's getting a bum rap on a lot of things," he said of the pope. "I'm just not very quick to jump to the judgment that a lot of people want to seem to jump to at the moment. A lot of things, we don't know."

But Burke said she has wondered whether Ratzinger, decades ago, was as negligent as other bishops who in the past heeded advice from lawyers and psychologists that abusive priests could simply be reassigned. Bishops have since said they simply hadn't understood the nature of sex abuse. Since 2002, a zero-tolerance policy in place in U.S. dioceses has permanently barred from ministry any priest found to have molested a single minor.

"As time goes on," Burke said, "there is no reason for me to think he wouldn't have acted that way. Because that was the culture. They all did it."

She said she was more disturbed with the report that his Vatican office stopped canonical proceedings against the Wisconsin priest due to his illness and the age of the case.

"If your brother-in-law committed this crime," she said, "he'd be sent to jail in two seconds."