Thursday, 25 March 2010

Pope implicated in US abuse cover-up

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As the Catholic child abuse scandals rumble on, the Vatican's claim that Pope Benedict XVI knew nothing of the shameful and widespread cover-ups, and the related attempt to portray him as the apologetic, forgiving Pontiff who can restore the Church's moral authority, look increasingly tenuous.

Following allegations that he knew of the assignment of an abusive priest to a new parish in Bavaria when he was Archbishop of Munich, the New York Times today reports on how the Pope, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger in the mid-'90s, may have been aware of, or possibly involved in, the decision to not defrock a Wisconsin priest, Rev Lawrence Murphy, who was known to have abused children at a deaf school between 1950 and 1974.

The details of the Pope's involvement are sketchy, although the involvement of the Vatican's current Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who at the time of the Murphy decision in 1996 was Ratzinger's right hand man at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Inquisition), seems much clearer. According to the New York Times report, Bertone stopped proceeding to defrock Murphy after the priest personally wrote to Ratzinger "protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church’s own statute of limitations". Files seen by the paper, which have come to light as part of an ongoing lawsuit by abuse victims against the Archdiocese of Milqaukee, despite Vatican attempts to keep them secret, contain no reply from Ratzinger.

So, while there is no evidence that the Pope himself authorised a decision not to defrock the abusive priest, this latest report appears to further undermine claims that Ratzinger played no role in covering up child abuse. We know that letters were sent directlt to him by an abusive priest asking for proceeding against him to be stopped. We don't know that Ratzinger himself read the letters, but they certainly passed through his department. What we do know is that Ratzinger's second-in-command, Cardinal Bertone, who is now the Vatican's Secretary of State, did act on the appeal made by Murphy in his letters.

It's becoming increasingly clear that the horrific scandal of child rape and its concealment has infected every level of the Catholic Church, from parish priests who committed it all the way up to leading Vatican officials who tried to ensure the abuse was never made public (or indeed, made into a matter for secular legal authorities). There's not yet any clear evidence of an individual case that the Pope himself helped to cover up, but the scandal seems to be getting closer to his door with every new media report. In any case, we've long known about Ratiznger's 2001 letter to bishops ordering them to handle abuse allegations "in the most secretive way", on pain of excommunication. All the while, we in Britain are gearing up to welcome the Pope here in September as the head of a nation state – indeed one whose Secretary of State has today been directly linked with a cover-up. This is just one of the reasons why the Protest the Pope coalition are preparing a warm welcome for Ratzinger when he comes to these shores (for more reasons, see here). In fact, the coalition is holding a protest outside Westminster Cathedral this Sunday, if you're interested – visit their website for more details.


Luke said...

Typo, delete this comment.

"who was known to have abused children at a death school between 1950 and 1974."

Paul Sims said...

Thanks Luke - some typos are more unfortunate than others.