NCR: “Pope needs to answer questions”

The National Catholic Reporter on “the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history”:

The Holy Father needs to directly answer questions, in a credible forum, about his role — as archbishop of Munich (1977-82), as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1982-2005), and as pope (2005-present) — in the mismanagement of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

We urge this not primarily as journalists seeking a story, but as Catholics who appreciate that extraordinary circumstances require an extraordinary response. Nothing less than a full, personal and public accounting will begin to address the crisis that is engulfing the worldwide church. It is that serious.

To date, as revelations about administrative actions resulting in the shifting of clergy abusers from parish to parish emerge throughout Europe, Pope Benedict XVI’s personal response has been limited to a letter to the Irish church. Such epistles are customary and necessary, but insufficient.

With the further revelations March 26 by The New York Times that memos and meeting minutes exist showing that Benedict had to be at least minimally informed that an abuser priest was coming into the archdiocese of Munich and that he further had been assigned without restrictions to pastoral duties, 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.

No longer can the Vatican simply issue papal messages — subject to nearly infinite interpretations and highly nuanced constructions — that are passively “received” by the faithful. No longer can secondary Vatican officials, those who serve the pope, issue statements and expect them to be accepted at face value.

We were originally told by Vatican officials, for example, that in the matter of Fr. Peter Hullermann, Munich Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger approved the priest’s transfer to the archdiocese, but had no role in the priest’s return to parish ministry, where he again molested children. Rather, it was Fr. Gerhard Gruber, archdiocesan vicar general at the time, who, according to a March 12 Vatican statement, has taken “full responsibility” for restoring the priest to ministry. Gruber, subsequent to his statement, has not made himself available for questions.

We are told, moreover, that the case of Hullermann is the single instance during Ratzinger’s tenure in Munich where a sexually errant priest was relocated to a parish where he could molest again. If true, this would be a great exception to what, in the two-and-a-half decades NCR has covered clergy abuse in the church, has been an ironclad rule: Where there is one instance of hierarchical administrative malfeasance, there are more.

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