In a papacy sometimes marred by scandal and internal confusion, Benedict's handling of the sexual abuse crisis has often been touted as a bright spot -- one case, at least, in which the expectations of the cardinals who elected him for a firmer hand on the rudder seem to have been fulfilled.
That background makes the scandals now engulfing the church in Europe especially explosive, because by putting the pope's all but forgotten tenure as the Archbishop of Munich from May 1977 to February 1982 under a microscope, they threaten to once again make Benedict seem more like part of the problem than the solution.
As of this writing, there's at least one case on the record of a priest accused of abuse who was reassigned in Munich while Ratzinger was in charge, and who went on to commit other acts of abuse. The vicar general at the time has assumed "full responsibility" and insisted that Ratzinger wasn't informed, but it nevertheless happened on his watch. For all anyone knows at the moment, there may be other such cases.
The question now is whether Ratzinger's past may trump Benedict's present. What weighs more heavily: Benedict's willingness to weed out abusers and to acknowledge the damage they left behind, or the church's inability to enforce similar accountability for bishops who failed to act -- a failure possibly reflected in the pope's own stint as a diocesan leader three decades ago?
That question is certain to put Benedict XVI's entire record on the sexual abuse issue, stretching over more than three decades of leadership in the Catholic church, under new scrutiny.
Fair. Balanced. American.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
He wrote the book on Benedict XVI. Literally. In his latest column in the National Catholic Register, he explains just what the stakes are: