Sunday, March 28, 2010

'New York Times' report dismissed as 'speculation'

THE CATHOLIC diocese of Munich has dismissed as “pure speculation” a New York Times report yesterday that Pope Benedict, as Archbishop Ratzinger of Munich in 1980, was aware that a convicted paedophile priest had been returned to pastoral work in his diocese.

The newspaper reported that documents relating to Fr Peter Hullermann’s arrival in Munich for therapy were copied to Archbishop Ratzinger. The priest’s transfer took place after discussion with Essen diocese, where he had been accused of molesting boys and was removed from work.

The New York Times quoted yesterday from a letter sent by Essen to Munich in early January 1980 and extracts of minutes from a meeting of the Munich diocesan council two weeks later, chaired by Archbishop Ratzinger, which approved the transfer.

Neither the Essen letter nor the Munich minutes mention explicitly the sexual abuse allegations against Fr Hullermann, the report noted, mentioning only that the priest “presented a danger”.

Fr Hullermann was given a room at a Munich presbytery during his therapy, on the understanding that he would not perform pastoral work. However ,the newspaper said Archbishop Ratzinger was copied a February 1980 memo from his deputy, general vicar Gerhard Gruber, returning Fr Hullermann to pastoral work.

The report did not quote from the memo, described by a diocesan spokesman as routine and “unlikely to have landed on the archbishop’s desk”. In 1986, four years after Archbishop Ratzinger left for the Vatican, Fr Hullerman was convicted of sexual abuse of children, given a suspended sentence and a fine.

The Munich archdiocese said the New York Times report “contained no information beyond what the archdiocese has already conveyed”.

It said “the archdiocese continues to presume that the then archbishop did not know about the decision to deploy Fr H in pastoral care” and dismissed “any other account of events as pure speculation”.

It noted that the then general vicar of Munich, Gerhard Gruber, accepted full responsibility for his “independent and incorrect decision to deploy Fr H in pastoral care”.

Meanwhile, America’s most influential Catholic weekly magazine, the National Catholic Reporter, has called on the pope “to directly answer questions, in a credible forum” about his role “in the mismanagement of the clergy sex abuse crisis”.

In a lengthy editorial yesterday it said: “We urge this not primarily as journalists seeking a story, but as Catholics who appreciate that extraordinary circumstances require an extraordinary response.”

It continued: “We now face the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history. How this crisis is handled by Benedict, what he says and does, how he responds and what remedies he seeks, will likely determine the future health of our church for decades, if not centuries, to come.”

With the further New York Times revelations . . . “it becomes even more difficult to reconcile the strong language of the pope in his letter to Irish bishops and his own conduct while head of a major See,” it said.

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