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For a Lady Pope

Paedophilia - Benedicte XVI acknowledges the Church’s responsibility

Since his accession to the Pontificat, Pope Benedicte XVI has found himself submerged by cases of pedeophilia. 2010 was a very testing year.

He has, on several occasions, strongly condemned all acts of pedeophilia and declared his shame about what had happened. Several of his trips abroad have been punctuated by defining moments. He has stigmatised all the sins that have been committed, deplored the breach of discipline by bishops and met with some of the victims.

In March 2010, in Ireland, Benedicte XVI stressed that the men of the Church responsible for committing acts of paedophilia, were accountable, not only before God, but also before ordinary justice systems. « You have betrayed the trust of innocent young people and their parents and placed shame and dishonour on your brothers, » he proclaimed. The Pope wrote to the bishops in Ireland, who had been accused of covering up the affairs: « There have been serious errors of judgement and breaches of discipline. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and efficiency.” To the Irish victims he confessed: « Many of you were brave enough to speak about what happened to you but no-one listened to you. I openly express the shame and remorse that we are all feeling. »

Certain journalists insist that Benedicte XVI still hasn’t formally accepted the Church’s responsibility. Even if it hasn’t been textually stated that the Church admits responsibility for a large majority of the acts committed and for having tried to cover them up, the fact that the Pope has expressed his remorse means at least that he is admitting to the painful feelings that arise when one knows in one’s consciousness that one has reacted badly. There is no sense in quibbling about this.

It is interesting to note that in April 2010, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, set the tone and recognised for the first time the “fault” of the Church in the sexual abuse scandals, where children were abused by priests and many events were dissimulated. « We, the people of God, and of his Church carry together the burden of guilt, » he said during a mass of penitence celebrated in Venice Cathedral.

In May 2010, the Sovereign Pontiff declared, during a visit to Portugal that, « the attacks against the Church and the Pope don’t only come from the exterior; the suffering comes from within the Church, due to the sins that exist within the Church. » He recognised the Church’s responsibility in the face of these crimes. «We have always known it, but today we see in much more terrifying form that the biggest persecution of the Church doesn’t come from any enemies on the outside but is born because of the Church’s own sins, » he dared affirm.

In September 2010, Benedicte XVI, whilst in the United Kingdom, repeated that the Church authorities hadn’t been vigilant enough in the scandals involving priests and acts of pedeophilia. The Church « was neither fast enough, nor firm enough when it came to taking the necessary measures, » he conceded. The Pope also declared that three elements needed to be taken into consideration: firstly, that the victims need to be given all the help necessary to get over the trauma and to regain trust in Christ’s message. Secondly, just punishment should be metered out to those found guilty and they should be prevented from having access to young people, as they suffer from a sickness which means that they cannot manage their free-will, and they need to be saved from themselves. And finally, the Church needs to be far more vigilant when choosing priests in the future.

When the Pope, speaking about paedophilic priests said that, « their self-will doesn’t work», was he minimalizing the errors committed? The Church teaches that mortal sin implies something serious that is carried out consciously. 

We can’t contest the fact that Benedicte XVI, previously Cardinal Ratzinger, has today finally admitted to the Church’s faults, no doubt encouraged to do so by the media. This has however taken some considerable time. During Jean-Paul II’s pontificate, the Vatican treated the cases of sexual abuse with discretion and leniency and, in doing so, neglected the victims. This had been going on since the 80’s but Cardinal Ratzinger became Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a key position, which made him Jean-Paul II’s right arm. Even if it is said that Cardinal Ratzinger manifestly demanded more rigour towards the priests committing sexual acts with minors, it doesn’t make up for the fact that he also respected the law of silence.

It was only in 2001, with the motu proprio, Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, that Jean-Paul II decreed that the most grave delicts against morals had to be reported by the bishops to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation led by Cardinal Ratzinger. A year later, Ratzinger told the bishops that at the slightest hint of paedophilia, they were to open an enquiry and denounce those presumed guilty to the appropriate legal authorities.

Since becoming Pope, Benedicte XVI has followed this path with determination.

His detractors, however, reproach him for having let a thousand or so files gather dust in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s archives until 2005.

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