Meanwhile, Catholics in the pews try to make sense of it all, wondering how they can explain the reports to their neighbors and co-workers.
What has been underreported is the role Pope Benedict XVI has played in guiding the church out of its dark past. Pope Benedict’s record on outreach to victims of clergy sexual abuse, as well as steps to discipline abusive priests and prevent future incidents is worthy of acclaim. Here are some examples of the pope’s efforts:
n In 2001, at Cardinal Ratzinger’s insistence, Pope John Paul II assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responsibility for cases of priests accused of sexual abuse. Under new rules, the doctrinal congregation was given the authority to laicize priest abusers without going through an ecclesiastical trial.
n He encouraged the U.S. bishops in 2002, when they were preparing their Charter for the Protection of Children of Young People. In an interview with Vatican Radio April 12, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, who was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the time, credited then-Cardinal Ratzinger for assisting the U.S. bishops.
“I must say that the one individual — if I had to cite one — who seemed to grasp the severity of the issue, to be most supportive of the direction that we were taking, and to encourage us to complete the work that we had begun, was Cardinal Ratzinger,” said Archbishop Gregory.
n Shortly after his election as pope in 2005, Benedict banished Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ and a pedophile, to a monastery and ordered an inquiry into the order.
n Pope Benedict is the first pontiff to meet with victims of clergy sexual abuse. During his 2008 visit to the United States, he met privately with victims at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. Before arriving in the United States, the pope told reporters aboard the papal plane, “We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that is possible (so) that this cannot happen in the future.”
n In a pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland, issued March 20, Pope Benedict admitted past mistakes by church leaders in addressing the issue of clergy sexual abuse.
“Certainly, among the contributing factors (of abuse) we can include … a misplaced concern for the reputation of the church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person,” he wrote.
John Allen, a veteran journalist who writes for the independent National Catholic Reporter, has also praised “a remarkable metamorphosis in Joseph Ratzinger vis-à-vis the sexual abuse crisis.”
“As pope, Benedict XVI became a Catholic Elliot Ness — disciplining Roman favorites long regarded as untouchable, meeting sex abuse victims in both the United States and Australia, embracing ‘zero tolerance’ policies once viewed with disdain in Rome and openly apologizing for the carnage caused by the crisis.”
While we cannot change the past, Pope Benedict has shown by his example that we can and must take positive steps to end sexual abuse and never repeat the mistakes that now haunt the church.