Growing focus on Pope Benedict in sex abuse scandal

Media outlets in the United States and Europe Friday raised fresh questions about the way Pope Benedict handled clergy sex abuse issues when he was Archbishop of Munich between 1977 and 1982.

The pace of coverage of the clergy sex abuse scandal, which has ebbed and flowed in the media for a quarter century now, quickened again in recent weeks as reports of abuse have become more widespread in Ireland, Germany and The Netherlands, and has Pope Benedict met with Irish prelates two weeks back and again late this week with the head of the German church hierarchy.

Following a private 45-minute meeting with the pope, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch held a news conference at the Vatican. He again apologised to the victims of sex abuse, while stressing that the pope had expressed full approval for the manner in which the German church was handling the scandal.

After the news conference the widening abuse inquiry landed at the doorstep of Benedict Friday as a senior church official acknowledged the Munich archdiocese, then headed by Joseph Ratzinger, (now Pope Benedict) made “serious mistakes” in handling an abuse case while the he served as its archbishop.

According to a report in The New York Times the archdiocese said that a priest accused of molesting boys was given therapy in 1980 and later allowed to resume pastoral duties, before committing further abuses and being prosecuted.

Pope Benedict, who at the time headed the archdiocese of Munich and Freising, approved the priest’s transfer for therapy. A subordinate took full responsibility for allowing the priest to later resume pastoral work, the archdiocese said in a statement, the Times reported.

The priest, identified only with the initial “H,” was moved to Munich in January 1980, where he was supposed to undergo therapy, a decision that was taken “with the approval of the archbishop,” according to the archdiocese’s statement. Benedict was archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, who once worked at the Vatican Embassy in Washington and became an early and well-known whistle-blower on sexual abuse in the church, said the vicar general’s claim was not credible, according to the Times report.

“Nonsense,” said Father Doyle, who has served as an expert witness in sexual abuse lawsuits. “Pope Benedict is a micromanager. He’s the old style. Anything like that would necessarily have been brought to his attention. Tell the vicar general to find a better line. What he’s trying to do, obviously, is protect the pope.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of the latest sex abuse claims in Germany, a number of senior clergy have called for a debate on the issue of celibacy in the priesthood.

ABC News and other media reported Friday that the Archbishop of Vienna called for a thorough examination of the link between celibacy and child sex abuse by priests and the Archbishop of Salzburg asked whether it was an appropriate way of life for priests today.

But overnight, Pope Benedict quashed any suggestions of a change in the vow of celibacy, calling it the ultimate commitment to God.

Father Thomas Williams, a Catholic priest and professor of theology and ethics in Rome, says there needs to be more study into any links between clerical celibacy and child abuse.

"I think studies need to be done and we need to know whether there is a causal relationship," he said.

"Is, for example, the incident of child abuse higher among celibate clergy than it is among, for example, non-celibate clergy of other faiths to start?

"Or is it higher among celibate clergy - Catholic priests for example - than it is among other people that work with children; so in public schools, the boy scouts; whatever.

"These are studies that need to be done."

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