Ratzinger initiated at least two investigations against priestly abusers

Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër in 1995.

Both men were candidates for the same position of archbishop of Vienna. However, although one did nothing when he found his seminarians to be in possession of child pornography, and the other raped between 12 and 30 young men, Ratzinger never alerted secular authorities. Via the New York Times:

The favorite on the final short list [for the Vienna archbishop position] was a conservative clergyman, the Rev. Kurt Krenn, who had close ties to some of John Paul’s closest confidants, two senior officials with knowledge of the process said.

“The energetic protest of Cardinal Ratzinger was decisive in removing Kurt Krenn from the list,” said one of the officials, who worked at the Vienna Archdiocese at the time and who declined to be identified because the procedure is confidential.

Benedict, known for his rigorous theology, objected that his Austrian colleague, Father Krenn, did not have a Ph.D. in theology, but rather in philosophy, say officials and priests in Vienna who knew both men. Father Krenn, who became a bishop in 1987, also had a reputation for being a loose cannon. In 2004, he had to retire early after dismissing the discovery at his seminary of a large cache of child pornography and images of young priests having sex as “boyish pranks.”

Bishop Kurt Krenn (unknown date)

…The Rev. Rudolf Schermann, at the time in charge of two parishes and now the publisher of the weekly magazine Kirche-In, said Benedict’s veto effectively propelled Cardinal Groër into the archdiocese. In the words of Cardinal Schönborn, who first met Cardinal Ratzinger in 1972 when he was the future pope’s student and has been close to him ever since, Benedict “was the second most important man in the Vatican and had without doubt the ear of the pope.”

But blocking Bishop Krenn does not appear to have been accompanied by a thorough vetting of Cardinal Groër, who was already under suspicion within his own abbey of sexually abusing minors and young men. The Rev. Udo Fischer, a priest who attended the Hollabrunn boys’ seminary in eastern Austria in the 1960s and early 1970s, where Cardinal Groër had lived and taught for decades, said that in 1985 he personally warned the abbot of their local Benedictine monastery about Cardinal Groër’s inappropriate behavior with boys, whom he often referred to as “little angels.”

Father Fischer told Abbot Clemens Lashofer of Göttweig Abbey that he himself had been molested by Cardinal Groër when they worked together on a youth movement devoted to the Virgin Mary in the early 1970s, and that he had observed him acting inappropriately with others who were not willing to come forward.

When Father Fischer learned about Cardinal Groër’s appointment as archbishop, he said he sent an angry telegram to Abbot Lashofer and asked why he had not spoken up. The abbot, who was head of Austria’s Benedictine order at the time, claimed he had never been questioned by the Vatican’s representative, the nuncio.

“If they really did not ask him, they did not want to know,” Father Fischer said. Abbot Lashofer died last year.

Priests and church law experts say that the process of due diligence the Vatican performs on candidates for bishop is usually rigorous. Members of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, whose ranks included Cardinal Ratzinger at the time, tend to review detailed files about the candidates before deciding which ones to recommend to the pope.

The rumors surrounding Cardinal Groër’s transgressions went beyond the circle of those who suffered at his hands. Josef Votzi, the journalist who broke the scandal in 1995 in the magazine Profil, is another Hollabrunn alumnus and said that even among staff members of the Vienna Archdiocese he interviewed when Father Groër was named archbishop, his history was “an open secret.”

In 1995, a victim came forward, telling Profil that the archbishop, then his religion teacher and confessor, had sexually abused him for four years two decades earlier at Hollabrunn.

In Rome a few weeks later, Cardinal Schönborn said, Cardinal Ratzinger told him behind closed doors that he wanted to set up a fact-finding commission to establish clarity. “That for me is one of the best indications that I know from personal experience that today’s pope had a very decisive, clear way of handling abuse cases,” he said.

Sometimes. But would anyone seriously say the cases of  Peter Hullerman, Marcel Maciel, Lawrence Murphy, Michael Teta, Robert C. Trupia, and Stephen Kiesle were handled “decisively”?

In a subsequent conversation later that year, Benedict “explicitly regretted that the commission had not been set up,” Cardinal Schönborn said. “It became clear very quickly that the current that prevailed in Rome was not the one demanding clarity here. Cardinal Ratzinger told me that the other side, the diplomatic side, had prevailed.”

Where John Paul II stood himself remains unclear, church officials in Vienna with knowledge of the case said. The “diplomatic side,” they said, was led by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the personal secretary of John Paul II.

…Benedict’s subsequent communications on the matter shed much light on the scandal. In letters he sent to Austrian clergy members after the scandal, he made no mention of the former archbishop’s transgressions, instead warning bishops against ceding ground on the reformist proposals of the Catholic grass-roots movements that had sprung up.

In 1996, Cardinal Groër was named head of a priory in Germany then overseen by Göttweig Abbey and still appeared at official church functions. This sparked a vocal rebellion in Göttweig in late 1997, among some of his former students and victims, who called for his resignation. Faced with such upheaval, church officials removed Cardinal Groër from the priory and sent him back in January to the convent where he had lived after he was forced out in 1995. Shortly afterward, John Paul II approved a Vatican investigation.

Abbot Franziskus Heereman, who helped conduct the inquiry, or visitation, says that Cardinal Ratzinger was the driving force inside the Vatican behind the investigation. After the one-week visitation ended in March, Cardinal Groër was removed from the priory (for “health reasons”), told to stay out of public view and sent to a convent in eastern Germany for six months. “Imposing on a cardinal to stay out of the public view and forbidding him to take part in official ceremonies is a very serious punishment,” Cardinal Schönborn said.

Not, however, as serious a punishment as telling the truth and turning him in to the law. Even in giving this “serious punishment,” they were still protecting  Groër by giving the bullshit explanations ( “health reasons”) for his absence. Groër never faced a secular or even an ecclesiastical trial.

Many in the Austrian clergy criticized what they saw as an attempt by Rome to protect a cardinal while ignoring victims demanding justice. Prior Gottfried Schätz, the No. 2 at Göttweig Abbey who had helped lead the outcry against Cardinal Groër, left in September 1998 and requested removal from the priesthood, which he was granted unusually quickly, within a year, Father Fischer said.

Father Schermann said, “They did as much as they had at each point in time given the public outcry, and no more.”


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