(U-WIRE) LINCOLN, Neb. – Pope Benedict XV began his first visit to the United States on Tuesday.
His visit marks a renewed interest in the U.S. clergy sex abuse scandal, to which he personally has close ties.
As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith under Pope John Paul II, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was responsible for the investigation of sexual abuse by priests.
In May of 2001, Ratzinger sent out a classified letter to every bishop in the Catholic Church.
He reminded his subordinates of the strict penalties, including the threat of excommunication, for discussing confidential details of allegations of abuse outside the institution.
He also made it a point to remind them that the church had the right to hold inquiries behind closed doors and keep evidence confidential for a decade. This statute of limitations “begins to run from the day on that which the minor completes the 18th year of age,” he said.
In April of 2005, lawyers representing three abuse victims from Texas said Ratzinger’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice. The Pope sought pontiff immunity from the charges. The United States obliged.
Whether or not the letter amounted to obstruction of justice is debatable. But it certainly appears as though the highest moral authorities in the world were less interested in helping victims come forward than in saving their collective hides.
In fairness, so far on his visit, and during his early papacy, Pope Benedict XV has expressed profound regret for the affair.
“It is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the church in general and for me personally that this could happen,” he told American reporters Tuesday.
“I am deeply ashamed, and we will do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future,” he went on to say.
These comments indicate the Catholic Church is making steps in the right direction. But there need to be leaps.
First of all, the Catholic administration needs to start sounding much more serious on this issue.
The euphemisms continually used for the guilty (i.e. “abusers,” “priests who betray the mission”) soften the grave transgressions they’ve committed.
Let’s call these men what they are: serial rapists.
Along with first-degree homicide, these actions are the most heinous thing a person can do to another.
Ironically enough, on the same day as the Pope’s visit, CNN published the story about the state of Louisiana, which seeks to execute Patrick Kennedy for molesting his 8-year-old stepdaughter. It would be the first time in 44 years a person has been executed for a felony other than homicide.
Many view the crime of Patrick Kennedy – the same crime committed by the guilty priests – as worthy of capital punishment.
If even a fraction of the clergy allegations put forth are true, the Church should make a profound apology to all the victims and beg their forgiveness.
Furthermore, there should be full disclosure about all instances of abuse, as well as full cooperation with any ongoing investigation.
It also should be aggressive in detecting and reporting instances of abuse and seeing to its continued prevention.
Is every single allegation true? Probably not, but enough confessions and corroborating victims have come forward to indicate the scandal by and large is not some mass extortion attempt, as the letter by Ratzinger may lead one to believe.
Criticisms are not so much attempts to undermine the Catholic Church, but are to ensure its preservation as an institution of peace and a place of healing.