Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pope should do more to end shielding of abusive priests

THE BUCK stops with Pope Benedict XVI.

He should stop apologizing and start confronting the root issue behind the latest revelations about clergy sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church: the Vatican’s complicity in protecting pedophile priests and their enablers from criminal prosecution.

For Benedict, that means tearing down a wall of secrecy that he helped construct and ending the church’s history of providing sanctuary to predator priests and the higher-ups who shielded them.

The pope’s involvement is personal. In 2001, he was in charge of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which decides whether accused priests should be defrocked.

In that capacity, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a letter instructing bishops to refer allegations of certain offenses by the clergy, including sexual conduct with minors, to the congregation.

While the Vatican maintains that Ratzinger did not discourage cooperation with government authorities, the letter has been interpreted as telling bishops to keep accusations secret.

Benedict should nullify the 2001 letter and call upon all Catholic clergy and lay personnel to notify authorities of any known abuse allegations. And he should make sure secular accountability extends beyond individual abusers to those who enabled them.

Benedict is also entangled in a new scandal involving a Wisconsin priest who molested as many 200 deaf boys.

From his Vatican perch, then-Cardinal Ratzinger failed to defrock the serial molester Lawrence C. Murphy, “despite receiving letters from a number of American bishops pleading with him to act on the matter,’’ according to The New York Times.

Instead, the church moved Murphy and allowed him to continue working with young people. He died in 1998.

This follows reports that the German archdiocese run by the future pope in the 1980s ignored repeated warnings about a priest accused of sexually abusing boys.

The priest was transferred and later allowed to work with young people. In 1986 — several years after the future pope had been transferred to the Vatican — the priest was convicted of sexual abuse.

With sex-abuse scandals engulfing the church in Ireland, Benedict recently expressed “shame and remorse’’ for “sinful and criminal’’ acts committed by members of the clergy in that country.

But he did not call for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Irish church, nor did he call for disciplining other church leaders for their mistakes. He instructed bishops to cooperate with civil authorities in prosecuting wrongdoing.

But, critics maintain, he failed to clarify contradictory Vatican rules about the procedures for investigating abuse cases and the church’s responsibility for informing civil authorities about offenses they uncover.

This repeats a pattern that spanned the globe and continues today, despite apologies and new anti-abuse policies.

It will only stop when the Vatican makes it stop.

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