The unprecedented raid last week on the home of a former Belgian archbishop Godfreed Danneels, and the headquarters of his church reawakened the questions that have hovered over the heads of the Catholic hierarchy for decades.
Just who knew what about the repeated allegations of paedophilia that were slowly merging from the darkened corners of former orphanages and other Catholic establishments charged with the care of young people.
On June 11th Pope Benedict ‘begged forgiveness from God and from the persons involved’ and promised to do ‘everything possible’ to prevent future abuse.
The inference we were invited to draw was that Pope Benedict was now in charge of the matter and there would be changes.
Today we learn that as Cardinal Ratzinger he was, and had been for two decades, in charge of the office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an office which held full authority over sexual abuse cases and had done since 1922. It had simply never acted.
Pope John Paul famously believed that all allegations of paedophilia were manifestations of the Devil’s work – attacking the Catholic Church. He was Cardinal Ratzinger’s direct superior. The suspicion must be that despite the plentiful reports from Bishops around the world, Cardinal Ratzinger had more than one eye on his career, rather than using the power he possessed to instigate investigations into events that his superior thought to be Devilish lies.
“But the future pope, it is now clear, was also part of a culture of nonresponsibility, denial, legalistic foot-dragging and outright obstruction. More than any top Vatican official other than John Paul, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who might have taken decisive action in the 1990s to prevent the scandal from metastasizing in country after country, growing to such proportions that it now threatens to consume his own papacy.”
Whilst individual Bishops could either sideline or suspend abusive priests, in order to prosecute them, they needed the help of Ratzinger’s office – and it was never forthcoming. Silence.
Rather than attend to the problems of abusive priests, Ratzinger’s office was dealing with the thorny problem of the apparition of the virgin Mary, and penalising priests in Brazil or Peru for preaching that the church should work to empower the poor and oppressed……
In the 1990s, a Canadian priest bravely spoke out about the problem in front of Ratzinger – he was rewarded with a lecture on the number of priests leaving to get married.
That concern — that the irrevocable commitment to the priesthood was being undermined by the exodus of priests leaving to marry or because they were simply disenchanted — had already led Cardinal Ratzinger to block the dismissal of at least one priest convicted of molestation, documents show.
The truth has come to light as a result of a cannon law student who is now an archbishop.
Archbishop Wilson said in an interview that during the session he had to call Vatican officials’ attention to long-ignored papal instructions, dating from 1922, and reissued in 1962, that gave Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, previously known as the Holy Office, sole responsibility for deciding cases of priests accused of particularly heinous offenses: solicitation of sex during confession, homosexuality, paedophilia and bestiality.
The Catholic Church has a lot in common with the Labour Party – the tribal necessity of protecting the institution is seen as more important than the good of the congregation. They are both being dragged screaming into the 21st century and we are not enjoying what we are seeing.