“No one in the whole of the Catholic Church knows as much about abuse cases – knowledge that is ex officio, derived from his office,” Hans Küng said in an interview with Swiss television.
Professor Küng – a long-standing critic of the Vatican – said that the Pope’s involvement in hiding clerical molestation of children dated back at least to his 24 years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome .
“This Vatican authority has for a long time centralised [information about] all abuse cases so that they can be concealed, classified as top secret,” the 82-year old Swiss theologian said.
He has been a close observer of Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – since they were theology professors at the University of Tübingen in the 1960s. Both were theological advisers to the Second Vatican Council, which concluded in 1965.
Professor Küng’s clinching piece of documentary evidence against his old university colleague is contained in a diocesal letter, dated March 18, 2001, on child abuse, “De delictis gravioribus” (“about serious offences”). Signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the document establishes guidelines for dealing with priests suspected of abuse:
“In tribunals established by ordinaries or hierarchs, the functions of judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative can validly be performed for these cases only by priests. When the trial in the tribunal is finished in any fashion, all the acts of the case are to be transmitted ex officio as soon as possible to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," it says.
Professor Küng argues that the Pope is acting hypocritically by calling bishops to order because for the past ten years such offences have been officially regulated behind closed doors.
“He cannot now wag his finger at the bishops and say 'you did not do enough!' He gave the instructions himself – as boss of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and again as Pope.”
The Vatican has argued that it is a serious misunderstanding to cast the 2001 document as part of the Church’s supposed “culture of silence”.
A German church official tried to play down Professor Küng’s utterances, arguing in essence that the theologian has "form” with the Pope.
After their stint in Tübingen together, Hans Küng and Joseph Ratzinger went separate ways: Professor Ratzinger, upset at the radical questioning of doctrine during the 1968 student disturbances, moved to the more conservative Regensburg; Professor Küng began openly to question the infallibility of the Pope and urge a discussion about the celibacy of priests.