Berlin ~ Tuesday April 06 2010
Helpless in the Vatican
The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates mass in memory of John Paul II on the 5th anniversary of his death in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on March 29, 2010. The pope's hesitant treatment of priest sex abuse scandals is expanding into a crisis for the Catholic Church and fueling outrage over his papacy. (AFP)
The pope's reluctance to take a firm stance on sexual abuse by priests is expanding into a crisis for the Catholic Church and fueling outrage over his papacy. Some Catholics are now even calling on Benedict, who has committed a series of gaffes since becoming pope in 2005, to resign. By SPIEGEL staff.
"Lord!" the man begins. It is night, and the torches cast flickering shadows on the ancient walls. "Your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side." It is a somber statement, particularly coming from a senior member of the Catholic Church.
The priest continues, speaking of weeds in the fields of the Lord, and of how much "filth there is in the Church," the result of priests' betrayal of God. "The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again." He beseeches God, saying: "Have mercy on your Church; even within her, Adam continues to fall again and again."
These were prophetic words. They reflected a bitterness and lack of illusions that could only have been expressed by an experienced cardinal who had exhaustively studied the files outlining the "filth in the Church."
The speaker was Joseph Ratzinger. He was chastising his own church during the Easter holiday five years ago, in 2005. It was a bitter indictment by a veteran of the Church, who apparently had little hope and was on the verge of retirement. It was meant as a legacy and as a warning, but what Ratzinger did not do was to specify the actual misconduct.
At the Center of the Filth
Five years later, the situation in the Church has caught up with Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. The filth in the Church has seeped out of the secret dossiers and hidden corners of vestries, seminaries and schools and has been brought to light. As the head of the Church, the captain of this battered ship, Ratzinger now finds himself at the center of the filth.
The pope is now confronted with accusations from all over the world, accompanied by increasingly urgent appeals to finally render his ship seaworthy again. The sex abuse cases which were initially a problem only for national bishops' conferences, particularly in the United States, Ireland and Germany, have merged into a crisis for the entire Catholic Church, a crisis that is now descending upon the Vatican with a vengeance and hitting its spiritual leader hard. Meanwhile that leader seems oblivious to what has happened so suddenly.
In Germany, churchgoers are demanding to know why Benedict has not said a word about the crimes of priests in his native country. Christian Weisner, a senior member of the reform movement "We Are Church," is deeply disappointed by the pope. Benedict XVI, says Weisner, has "not understood the true scope of the distress."
Demands for Repentance
The Poles are angry with the pope, because they fear that his inaction in the face of the crisis could harm the reputation of "their" pope, John Paul II, whose beatification they expect to take place soon. "A public mea culpa would have given him credibility in the fight over the purity of the Church," wrote the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
The Irish, to whom Benedict wrote a pastoral letter in which he assigned the responsibility for the abuse cases to local bishops and, in what was not exactly a sign of remorse, to the "secularization of Irish society," were disappointed in the pope. Writing in the Sunday Tribune, an Irish Sunday newspaper, columnist Maurice O'Connell demanded: "Why, for example, can Benedict not jump on a plane, come to Ireland, and, on Maundy Thursday (as he will be doing in Rome), wash the feet of 12 victims?"
Finally, in the United States, where about 12,000 abuse cases have come to light in the last few decades and the media are already accusing the pope himself of having covered up the scandals, the attorney of one abuse victim even wants to force the pontiff to appear in court. Many Catholics who suffered as a result of the sexual urges of their priests 30 years ago have given up hope that the pope will show any remorse at all. David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), accuses the pope of ignoring the suffering of the victims. "Actions, not words, protect innocent kids and heal wounded victims," says Clohessy.
Papacy In Jeopardy
Suddenly, the worldwide chorus of outrage seems to be putting the German pope's entire papacy in jeopardy.
Benedict XVI began his papacy by embarking on a project of reconciliation which went beyond the Church itself. The newly elected pope wanted to rule with the word, and with discourse, not prohibitions. That was what he had been doing for 23 years in his previous position, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). And now he was suddenly advocating an open, self-confident dialogue on several fronts: with the secular world, with Islam, with the Jews and with the traditionalists within the Church. Perhaps even with the followers of Martin Luther.
Now, after five years in office, Benedict has seen his project fail and himself become a spiritual shepherd lost in a world that no longer understands him. The secular world now views the pope with, at best, indifference, if not downright hostility. The Church's dialogue with the Jews suffered a serious setback in the wake of the scandal surrounding Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson. An icy silence still predominates in parts of the rabbinate, and the planned beatification of Pius XII, whose role during the Nazi era is controversial, will hardly change that.
Many Muslims have never forgiven Benedict for a lecture he gave in Regensburg in 2006, where he examined the issue of violence and Islam in a bold but ineptly executed move. The speech unleashed a torrent of protests in the Muslim world.
Even radical opponents of reform, such as the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and other traditionalists, have not hurried back to Rome, even though the pope has opened all doors for them, declared the Latin mass to be equally valid and reversed the excommunication of SSPX's bishops. Meanwhile, Benedict's gesture of reconciliation toward the extreme right fringe has angered more liberal dioceses in Germany and France.
Part 2: Calls for Benedict's Resignation
Protesters hold placards on March 28, 2010 in London, calling for the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI over abuse scandals involving the Church.
Of course, the office of pope does not exist so that its holder can be loved by the whole world. After Pius IX died in 1881, a number of Rome residents tried to seize the coffin so that they could throw it into the Tiber River. Today, a few days after Easter, only the most devoted pilgrims are rallying around their spiritual leader. The rest of the world, shocked by the sheer scope of the abuse cases, looks to Rome with skepticism, and some are already calling upon Benedict to take responsibility for his sinning priests and resign.
In the Italian magazine MicroMega, Don Paolo Farinella, a Catholic priest, has already written an example of the kind of statement he believes the pope should make to Irish Catholics: "I come to you with empty hands to beg your forgiveness" -- for the strictness of the celibacy, for the conditions in seminaries and for the thousands of cases of child abuse. "I will withdraw to a monastery and will spend the rest of my days doing penance for my failure as a priest and pope."
It hasn't come to that yet, not by a long shot. Some 80 percent of Germans still cannot imagine Benedict following the example of an almost forgotten pope, Celestine V, who resigned in the 13th century because he no longer felt able to perform his office.
Nevertheless, the question remains as to why nothing seems to go right anymore for this once-celebrated pontiff.
'A Humble Worker in the Vineyard of the Lord'
It is the tragedy of a man who had set out to write books and, only near the end of his life, was summoned to assume the herculean office at the Vatican. At the beginning of his papacy, Benedict XVI described himself, in all modesty, as "a simple humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."
To date, however, Joseph Ratzinger has been more of a hobby gardener in the vineyard, rather than a landscape architect or someone who cuts off fruitless vines.
Benedict XVI lacks his predecessor's ability to always find the right symbolic gestures. The charismatic John Paul II led the church at the height of the American abuse crisis, but it did not diminish his popularity.
He has incurred the suspicions of the secular world and the skepticism of other religions, but he has not found a way to address this opposition. Again and again, after each new scandal, each misunderstanding and each new blunder, his actions seem forced. He lacks his predecessor's ability to always find the right symbolic gestures. The charismatic John Paul II led the church at the height of the American abuse crisis, but it did not diminish his popularity. Even before his death, as he allowed the world to participate in his process of dying, crowds flooded into St. Peter's Square in Vatican City to be close to him.
Of course, what English author G.K. Chesterton wrote in the early 20th century still holds true today. "At least five times," Chesterton wrote, "the Faith has, to all appearance, gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases, it was the dog that died."
Some may find comfort in Chesterton's remark.
Derision for Religion
Nevertheless, many Catholics find their pope's actions painful to watch, not because they consider him incapable or even unlikeable, but because they cannot look on as this extraordinary man gets in his own way. The members of the "We Are Church" movement, in particular, have turned away from Benedict.
According to a poll conducted for SPIEGEL by pollster TNS Forschung, 73 percent of Germans believe that the pope's handling of abuse cases in the Catholic Church is "not adequate."
Following the revelations about clerical misconduct, the disenchantment has, in many places, turned into aggression, malice and, in some cases, cheap derision against all things religious. In the last few weeks, a tone of contempt for the Catholic Church has emerged in online forums throughout Germany.
In one forum, a contributor wrote: "The fact that the Church only admits what it can no longer deny shows that the Vatican only regrets one thing, if anything: the fact that the priests were caught."
Another contributor wrote: "The institution of the Church is a morally depraved club of old men. One needs to distance oneself from this organization as clearly as possible."
What's Wrong with the Church
There is also no lack of recommendations relating to the future of the Church, both from believers and non-believers. Suddenly everyone knows what the Church has done wrong in decades gone by: the celibacy and the exclusion of women from the priesthood; the hierarchy of old men and the persecution of any efforts to liberalize the theology; the blind condemnation of contraception and birth control in the poor regions of the world; the eternal lack of understanding of homosexuality; the mistrust of technology and modern culture; and the constant needling and provocation aimed at the Protestant churches, Judaism and Islam.
Ratzinger the theologian has defended the doctrines and precepts of his church again and again, often cleverly and with exquisite scholarliness. In doing so, he has cited the teachings of the Church fathers, the councils and the entire Holy Scripture.
For a time, he enjoyed the undivided goodwill of the German press. Even Hamburg's arch-Protestant weekly newspaper Die Zeit softened its otherwise skeptical view of Rome.
Nevertheless, Benedict's message did not reach its intended audience. The pope lost his close connection to his wards. The master of the word failed to convince the public of the legitimacy of even one of his positions.
This may have something to do with the public -- or the positions.
In any event, the Germans' goodwill toward "their pope" was short-lived. In fact, most of his fellow Germans have long immersed themselves in their own personal belief system. Although they clearly retain the desire for a metaphysical source of comfort when life becomes difficult, they prefer to dispense with the institution and its requirements.
Part 3: 'Weary of Faith'
Christendom has "grown weary of faith (and) has abandoned the Lord," as Ratzinger concluded in his prayers for the Stations of the Cross at the Roman Coliseum in 2005. He spoke of the "banal existence of those who, no longer believing in anything, simply drift through life."
But the pope, this owl-eyed old man with a high voice, simply isn't as adorable as the Dalai Lama. He lacks the clear message of a Barack Obama. And no one would want to be stuck on a deserted island with one of his German propagandists, let alone be guided through the desert by them.
The days of Vatican chic are over, it seems.
Germany's flirtation with this man lasted all of two summers. For a time, it was hip to have read Ratzinger. Authors suddenly began making pilgrimages and the culture sections of magazines wondered if it was time for a return of the sacred. Berlin's upper middle class sent its children to the Canisius College Jesuit high school, convinced that they were guaranteeing their children's future.
Nevertheless, the disenchantment quickly set in. The longer Benedict was in office, the clearer it became that he was not interested in the opening up of the Church to the modern world that the public -- which had perhaps been fooling itself -- had expected of him.
His revival of the traditional Latin mass, the return of the idea of the controversial prayer for the Jews in the Good Friday prayers, the departure from critical biblical research in his book "Jesus of Nazareth" -- these were all relatively minor and inconspicuous steps in the direction of a more traditional Church. Observant church insiders, however, quickly recognized their significance as a warning sign.
In Germany, in particular, the mood began shifting beyond the Catholic Church when, in 2007, Benedict offended the country's 25 million Protestants with a verdict from the Vatican, stating that their denominations could "not be called churches in the real sense." His message of "dogma instead of dialogue" also offended the Catholic base, which, in many places, had long surpassed Church leaders in their ecumenical efforts. Even the then-leader of German Catholics, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, was clearly against the direction Benedict had taken, and tried to soften it somewhat with his own positions.
'He Disappointed the World'
Swiss theologian Hans Küng, Ratzinger's old friend from the days of the Second Vatican Council and later his adversary, soberly concluded that his audience with the pope at the beginning of Benedict's papacy did not, by a long way, signal a new dawn in the Church. "I had assumed that my invitation was the first in a series of bold acts of which the pope was capable. But he disappointed the world. Since then, he has not issued any further signals of renewal. On the contrary, he has, time and again, taken a step backward from the achievements of the Council."
In his position as pope, Ratzinger had the chance to strike out in a different direction than in his previous post as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he was the Church's supreme commissioner of faith for almost a quarter century. As Benedict, however, he quickly gambled away this opportunity and slipped back into his old role. Ratzinger has therefore become a prisoner of his biography -- to the detriment of the Catholic Church.
Ratzinger's 'Rational Adventure'
Joseph Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927 in the Bavarian village of Marktl am Inn, the son of a police officer. Although money was tight, Joseph and his older brother, Georg, attended high school.
When Joseph, their youngest son, was only in second grade, the parents bought him a missal, the Mass book priests use on the altar. For Ratzinger, religion became what he would later call a "rational adventure." His Catholicism was never merely incense and naïve faith.
His school registered him for the Hitler Youth, which was unavoidable, but he rarely attended. He was eventually drafted to serve as a child soldier in Munich. He spent the end of the war in a POW camp near the southern German city of Ulm.
Ratzinger was consecrated as a priest in 1951. He only worked in pastoral care for a short time, however, meaning he had little first-hand experience with the everyday worries of the faithful.
Part 4: Traumatic Experiences
Instead, he quickly embarked on a career as a theologian. In 1958, at the age of 31, he became a professor of dogmatic and fundamental theology. In 1962, he served as a theological consultant to the Second Vatican Council, where Ratzinger championed views that were both liberal and critical of the Vatican, views that advocated the individual freedom of a Christian and opposed the Roman Curia's claim to omnipotence. At the time, Ratzinger argued that the Church had "reins that are far too tight, too many laws, many of which have helped to leave the century of unbelief in the lurch, instead of helping it to redemption."
After the Council, Ratzinger, together with Hans Küng and Karl Rahner, was considered one of the reformers in the Church. In 1966, he brought his friend Küng to the University of Tübingen in southern Germany as a professor of dogmatic theology. In 1968, Ratzinger and 1,360 other theologians worldwide signed a resolution drafted by Küng, titled "For the Freedom of Theology."
In the same year, however, Ratzinger had a traumatic experience that explains his thoughts and actions to this day. During the 1968 revolt, he witnessed his students reviling the image of Christ on the cross as a "sadomasochistic glorification of pain" and chanting "Jesus be damned!" during one of his lectures. In a 1983 SPIEGEL interview, he said that it became clear to him in the lecture halls at Tübingen, then under the spell of the great Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch, that the outcome of the Council had been the "opposite" of what had been intended.
Guardian of the Truth
For the 41-year-old cleric, the Tübingen experiences were a deep shock that changed him radically from a cosmopolitan theologian to a timid dogmatist. Since then, the unalterable, God-given truth has meant everything to him. For Ratzinger everything had to be subordinate to this truth.
Ratzinger also believed that the Catholic Church is the guardian of the absolute moral truth. As archbishop of Munich and Freising, Ratzinger had the motto "Cooperatores veritatis" ("Worker of Truth") embroidered onto his shoulder shawl. As Ratzinger often points out disdainfully, he believes that the notion that truth only reveals itself in fragments to people, including those who believe in God, and that truth is therefore not a fixed variable but takes on different forms in time and space, depending on culture and tradition, is nothing but condemnable "relativism."
In Ratzinger's world, man is more of an object than an active subject. Critics of this pope have noticed, again and again, that he comes across as distant and cold, even when he turns to people with deliberate affection. He completely lacks the charisma of palpable brotherly love that John Paul II exuded.
In 1981, John Paul II brought Ratzinger, then an archbishop who had already been elevated to the rank of cardinal, to Rome to head the CDF. At the pope's request, Ratzinger first turned his attention to Latin America. The Polish pope believed that leftist priests there were trying to lead the faithful astray into Marxist convictions. He pilloried the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff and condemned the movement's commitment, which was based on theology, to a Church of the poor.
For more than two decades, Cardinal Ratzinger, from his office in Rome, kept watch to ensure that the faithful around the world -- including, in particular, the Church's functionaries, its priests and bishops -- toed the line. His soft gestures, shyness and high voice can be deceptive. In truth, Ratzinger is also a staunch crusader.
When Ratzinger became pope, he met with nothing but enthusiasm in the first few months of his papacy. Soon, however, he quickly became the target of criticism. His Regensburg speech in September 2006 provoked Islamists around the world to commit acts of violence against Christians. It was only with difficulty that the Church managed to smooth out the waves of outrage Benedict's words had triggered. Nevertheless, many still believed that it was all a misunderstanding, and that the learned professor had only expressed himself awkwardly when he said, quoting the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman."
The next scandal came in January 2009, when the pope rehabilitated Holocaust denier Richard Williamson, an excommunicated bishop of the Society of St. Pius X, a reactionary faith group that Benedict XVI was determined to bring back into his church. It was all the more controversial because Benedict is German. For fear of a permanent rift, the pope risked the reputation of Catholicism worldwide.
When Benedict XVI visited Israel a few months later, a trip that was only made possible after a number of pretexts and explanations, his appearance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial was sharply criticized as being "almost sterile," "unemotional" and simply "disappointing." Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau had expected to see more human sympathy for the suffering of murdered Jews. Instead, he said, the pope's speech was "devoid of any compassion, any regret, any pain over the horrible tragedy." He also criticized the pope for not using the phrase "6 million Jews" in relation to the number of Holocaust victims.
Part 5: The False Life of Man
Ratzinger has always been a shy person. But he came away from his experiences in Tübingen with an insurmountable fear: a fear for the wellbeing of the Church. Ratzinger wrote his dissertation on St. Augustine, the church father who imagined Christ wandering through the world as a stranger, driven by the constant endeavor to work toward a theocracy.
He also took on Augustine's repression of sensuality, which the church father made socially acceptable in the church in the 4th century, and his pessimism and rejection of the things of this world. It is a way of thinking that assumes that little good can be expected from the world beyond the walls of the Church and the Vatican. It also holds that if there is a true life within the false life of man, it only exists inside the Church, and that only the walls of the Vatican offer protection.
Those days are gone. Today, outrage directed at the Church can no longer be kept within the affected dioceses. The public is also demanding an explanation from the spiritual leader in Rome, particularly as the pope himself was confronted with these problems during his spiritual career. During his time as archbishop of Munich, there was the case of the priest Peter H., which has come back to haunt the pontiff in recent weeks.
The priest had attracted attention in the Diocese of Essen because of child molestation, and the diocese recommended that he undergo therapy under the care of the Archdiocese of Munich. Ratzinger agreed. But after the therapy, his vicar general assigned the man to another parish, allegedly with Ratzinger's knowledge. Peter H. molested more children in the ensuing years and was only banned from providing pastoral care in 2008. Last week, the Archdiocese of Munich even had to send a priest to the towns of Garching and Bad Tölz to help repair the trail of emotional destruction left by the erring priest.
'Too Much Failure'
The pope's most recent pastoral letter on sexual abuse in Ireland was a source of disappointment. "What would it have taken to devote a few sentences to the dramatic developments in Germany?" complained members of the German Catholic youth organization BDKJ. Even the archbishop of Berlin, Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, made a penitential pilgrimage through the streets of the German capital. "We suffer from the fact that there is too much failure in the church," Sterzinsky said.
For Ratzinger the man, the world outside the Church and the Vatican, the world of power and the power of the worldly, has always been something sinister. Even during his time as prefect of the CDF, he did not take the trouble to develop the network of supporters considered normal for a senior member of the Church. He was not interested in intrigues and tactical maneuvers. The theology professor, who accepts no contradiction between reason and faith, was always confident in the power of arguments.
He knew that it wouldn't be easy. "Society hates us because we stand in its way," he once confided in his biographer, Peter Seewald. Given this mindset, he could not have been truly surprised by the uproar of the past few weeks.
But it has affected him.
'The Human Flesh'
In particular, it pained Ratzinger that the person who is probably closest to him, his brother Georg, was cast in a bad light. Georg Ratzinger was director of the Regensburger Domspatzen, the cathedral choir in the Bavarian city of Regensburg, from 1964 to 1994. He was strict and sometimes used corporal punishment. Critics allege that Georg Ratzinger must have known about sexual abuse cases in the boarding school associated with the choir.
On his name day, the feast of St. Joseph of Nazareth, Joseph Ratzinger was sitting with his brother Georg in the ceremonial hall of the Palace of the Vatican, the Sala Clementina. The pastoral letter to Irish Catholics had just been signed. The two brothers looked fragile, their white hair slightly tousled. The Henschel Quartet was playing Haydn's "The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross."
"It would have been better to preserve the silence," the younger of the two brothers, the pope, said after the performance. He was referring to the customary moment of silence after the music ends. But he could not remain silent, and instead spent a full eight minutes talking about doubts and forgiveness and committing oneself to a higher purpose. He spoke about beauty and that difficult material, "the human flesh." It's a material which is very foreign to him -- and yet it will shape the last years of his papacy.
It was a moving moment, probably one of the few moments in which the pope was not being driven by his official duties.
Part 6: Keeping Quiet about Abuse Cases
As it happens, there are members of the Church who are far more obstinate than Joseph Ratzinger in keeping quiet about cases of sexual abuse.
For example, the case of Father Lawrence Murphy from Milwaukee, who molested about 200 boys at a school for the deaf, was not reported to Rome until 20 years after the last incidence of abuse. Under a strict interpretation of church law, that meant that the statute of limitations had already expired.
Nevertheless, Ratzinger's CDF supported the initiation of proceedings against Murphy. Ratzinger's deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, only recommended that the case be dropped after Murphy, who was already fatally ill, had begged for mercy in a letter to Ratzinger.
As prefect of the CDF, Ratzinger urged John Paul II, in 2001, to issue the papal letter known as the "Motu Proprio," which obligated the church to report all abuse cases to Rome and address them there.
Critics saw this as an attempt to keep the scandals under control and to handle them with the utmost discretion. The Vatican insisted that the requirement of "papal secrecy" was meant solely to protect those involved, and that it never precluded reporting abuse cases to the secular authorities.
The Vatican's Worst Nightmare
Many Catholics questioned whether this was true. After the issuance of the Motu Proprio, however, all dossiers relating to pedophile priests passed across Ratzinger's desk. No one in the global Church had a better idea of what was really going on in the seminaries and Catholic institutions. And this is precisely why the Catholic Church could very well face proceedings that could expand into Vatican lawyers' worst nightmare, and could end in the pope having to answer for the charges of abuse in a secular court.
"I want to know what the Vatican knew and when they knew it," attorney William McMurry, who is representing three alleged victims of priest sexual abuse in Kentucky, told the Washington Post. Their case has now come before the US District Court in Louisville, and could eventually make it all the way through the courts to the Supreme Court in Washington. The plaintiffs argue that the Vatican can be held responsible for the damage inflicted by its employees. With the suit, the Americans hope to embark on a legal path that seemed off-limits for years: They are determined to assert a direct claim by abuse victims against the Vatican.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney from Minnesota who has represented hundreds of abuse victims since 1983 and has won millions of dollars in compensatory damages for his clients, has been waiting for such an opportunity to come along. In recent weeks, Anderson made headlines worldwide when he turned over documents about the Father Murphy case to the New York Times. Now he is hoping for the biggest conceivable prize: to subpoena the Holy Father himself. "This is a tipping point," Anderson told the Associated Press. "I came to the stark realization that the problems were really endemic to the clerical culture, and all the problems we are having in the US led back to Rome. And I realized nothing was going to fundamentally change until they did."
Elaborate Defense Strategy
Although legal experts agree that summoning Benedict XVI to testify before a US court is extremely unlikely, the lengthy legal battle this would entail would be embarrassing enough.
Ratzinger's church lawyers have already assembled an elaborate defense strategy. They argue that the pope, as the Vatican's head of state, enjoys immunity against lawsuits in US courts. They also point out that the American bishops who covered up abuse cases are not employees subject to directives from Vatican City.
Ironically, Ratzinger has always advocated that his Church take a tough approach toward sinners in cassocks. For him, the ordination of priests is a central sacrament, an office that entails constant self-examination and strict discipline.
For example, Ratzinger enforced his hard line against the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legion of Christ, a powerful congregation of priests. Maciel Degollado, who died in 2008, allegedly fathered and abused several children.
Despite the many rumors, John Paul II, who deeply respected Maciel Degollado as a servant of God, dedicated a festive mass on St. Peter's Square to the Mexican priest in 2001. One of Ratzinger's first actions in his new office as pope, however, was to banish Maciel Degollado to a monastery.
But like the vast majority of bishops in the past (and many today), Ratzinger is also convinced that too much openness only benefits one's adversaries.
At the height of the abuse crisis in the United States, on Nov. 30, 2002, Ratzinger answered questions at the Catholic University of San Antonio de Murcia in southeastern Spain. There are, of course, sinners in the church, he explained, "but personally I am convinced that a targeted campaign is behind the constant media reports on the sins of Catholic priests, particularly in the United States." The goal of this campaign, he said, was to "discredit the Church."
The American church paid dearly for its attempted cover-ups. To date, US dioceses have been forced to pay well over $2 billion (€1.5 billion) in compensation for the misdeeds of about 5,000 priests. Some dioceses have had to declare bankruptcy as a result.
The law of silence regarding abuse cases was still considered unbroken at the time. Cardinals Bernard Law of Boston and Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles were members of opposing camps within the Church, Law being conservative and Mahoney liberal. But the two men agreed that the Church's good reputation was more important than the truth.
Part 7: Protecting Believers from Doubt
This conviction may have been rooted in the widely held belief in the treatability of sexual offenders. The emphasis was placed on the notion that "it was God's duty to protect ordinary believers from all doubt," says Jesuit priest Eberhard von Gemmingen.
The archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, recently offered a deep look into the inner life of the Vatican. When the serious abuse of boarding-school students by Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër came to light in 1995, the officials close to then-Pope John Paul II blocked an investigative commission. The "diplomatic faction" among the pope's courtiers, Schönborn said, tried to blame everything on the media -- against the will of the current pope. "At the time, Ratzinger said to me, sadly: The other party has prevailed."
In his pastoral letter to Irish congregations, Benedict XVI went further than any pope before him. "In her (the Church's) name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel," he wrote. But it was not the admission of personal failure many had hoped for. Benedict criticized some bishops, but not the entire, authoritarian, fossilized "system of bishops." He also failed to take the opportunity to go on the offensive, to speak in the first person and to write about his time as archbishop in Munich.
"Critics will ask: Can Benedict XVI credibly demand greater accountability from bishops, if his own record as a diocesan leader reflects the same pattern of neglect?" writes Benedict biographer John Allen.
Going on the Offensive
Meanwhile, the Vatican seems to have emerged from its state of shock. After the days of awkward silence on a constant stream of new revelations, the Vatican is now going on the offensive, and the pope's defenders are becoming as aggressive as his critics.
Benedict's helpers, old, often retired bishops, armed with microphones and contacts to editors-in-chief and television producers, are stepping up to defend the pontiff. According to a Vatican expert at La Repubblica, the wall they are building around the head of the church is as thick as the wall surrounding the Kremlin.
They are embarking on a defensive war of sorts, a term Antonio Riboldi, the former bishop of Acerra, used when he said that a "war is underway between the Church and the world, between Satan and God." Anyone who attacks the pope has been instructed to do so by the Devil, claims Father Gabriele Amorth, who has been the Vatican's chief exorcist for 25 years.
Shortly before the Easter festivities, Church officials complained about the "stubbornness" of the "anti-Christian hate campaign" in the media, the sole purpose of which, as they argued, is to discredit the pope.
Praying for the Pope
The French bishops, who are in a significantly better position in the abuse affair than their German or Irish counterparts, because they took steps early on to ensure that the relevant offenses would be handed over to civil courts, are sending expressions of solidarity to Rome, and bishops are asking Catholics the world over to pray for the Holy Father "in these difficult times, so that God's grace will sustain him."
German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has always had a somewhat distant relationship to Ratzinger, conceded, in an interview with the Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera, that the church had been silent on instances of abuse in the past, at least in some cases." Calling upon the Vatican to put its house in order, he said that the path to renewal is "irreversible, and that's a good thing." But he too is convinced that the attacks on Benedict "exceed the limits of fairness and decency."
When the pope spoke on Palm Sunday, it sounded as if he were expressing defiant words of comfort for himself. The Christian faith gives us "courage not to be disturbed by the chatter of prevailing opinions," he said to a crowd of 50,000 supporters on St. Peter's Square. Was he saying that the cover-up charges are nothing but the gossip of disbelievers?
'We Have Betrayed the Name of God'
Before giving the sermon, Benedict XVI did something he had avoided on Palm Sundays in previous years. He had himself driven across St. Peter's Square in his popemobile while the faithful cheered and waved their palm fronds. It was no different a little over 2,000 years ago, when Christianity's founder entered Jerusalem. But papal spokesman Lombardi was quick to prevent any improper comparisons from being made. The pope, said Lombardi, had no intention of entrenching himself, but wanted to make himself visible, even to the faithful at the back of the crowd.
One of his closest confidants, on the other hand, has distanced himself from such defiant gestures. On Wednesday, Vienna Archbishop Christoph Schönborn, in a penance service in the city's St. Stephen's Cathedral, offered a confession of guilt: "We confess that we have obscured and betrayed the name of God which means love."
It was, at last, the confession the whole world had been hoping to hear from the German-born pope.
FIONA EHLERS, GREGOR PETER SCHMITZ, ULRICH SCHWARZ, ALEXANDER SMOLTCZYK, PETER WENSIERSKI
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
London ~ Monday March 15, 2010, G2 page 22
Edge of reason: The lonely reign of Benedict XVI
The authoritarian leader of the world's Catholics promised to restore the purity of his church. So why is it still plagued by scandal upon scandal? Peter Popham reports
Message of hope: the Pope addresses crowds at the Vatican City on Christmas Day 2007. He has proven a hard-line theologian (EPA)
Of all the countries Pope Benedict XVI is visiting this year – including Malta, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain – Britain, which he visits in September, is the one in the greatest moral difficulty from his perspective: a citadel of wild-eyed relativism, beset by all the ills which the Sixties incubated and which the Catholic Church here, in the Vatican's view, has done little to combat.
Look at the evidence: we have women vicars, openly gay Cabinet ministers, the minaret of a mosque looming over Regent's Park. Multi-culturalism has supplanted Christianity as the religion of choice; hardly anyone goes to church any more; a Christian tradition going back 1,500 years is discarded as immigrants belonging to every faith and none pour in. In our adoration of pop stars we have produced a new reign of idolatry. Benedict's late boss, whose doctrinal conservatism was lightened by a Bohemian theatrical streak, happily sat through a Bob Dylan concert and quoted the singer's lyrics in his subsequent sermon; on another occasion the current Pope's predecessor went so far as to try on Bono's shades. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict's name before he was Pope), obliged to accompany his boss, shook his head sadly over such lapses. These "stars of the young", he later wrote, "had a message completely different from that to which the Pope was committed. There was reason to be sceptical – which I was, and in a certain sense still am – to doubt whether it was really right to involve 'prophets' of this type." Pop music, he said in 1986, was "a vehicle of anti-religion".
Of course, it is normal for a Pope to take the moral high ground: what is the point of him if he doesn't? He may temper justice with mercy, but we expect him to lay down the law. Which is why the tide of sleaze engulfing the Church over recent weeks, most of it related to accusations of priestly paedophilia, has Vatican-watchers worried.
When he was crowned Pope nearly five years ago, Benedict promised to clean up the Church. He would not be a showman Pope like John Paul II, he would not flog himself around the world addressing huge stadiums. The Church under his guidance would not have expansiveness as its goal, but purification. It might be a smaller, tighter institution but it would be clean, consistent, and true to its word.
But events of recent weeks suggest that corruption is rooted close to its heart. A wealthy Italian industrialist called Angelo Balducci had been honoured by the Vatican as a gentiluomo del Papa, a "gentleman of the Pope", but then in charges that hit the headlines in Italy last month he was put under investigation for allegedly raking in money from sleazy building tenders. Separately, a member of the Vatican choir claims he was paid to find gay partners for Balducci. Despite the Church's draconian stand on homosexuality, the Vatican has long been known as a gay hot house, and insiders believe that Benedict's elevation changed nothing.
Meanwhile scandals continue to rain down on the Church from abroad. Shortly after Benedict condemned the "heinous acts" of paedophilia among priests in Ireland, accusations of similar acts surfaced in the famous choir of Regensburg, in Bavaria, of which the Pope's brother Georg was director while Joseph Ratzinger was a professor at the university (Georg claims no knowledge of any such abuse during his time there). Still more lurid are the accusations levelled at Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who died in 2008 aged 87. Back in the 1990s when Maciel was accused of by numerous young priests of abusing them sexually, Ratzinger, who, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had the charge of disciplining him. Maciel resigned in 2005, and was required to live a life of prayer and penitence, but that was the extent of his punishment. In recent weeks, however, a whole new slew of accusations has been made: two of Maciel's illegitimate sons have claimed that their priestly father raped them repeatedly from the age of seven upwards; they have demanded $26m (£17m) from the Order (which has not denied the charges) in compensation.
Some of these cases concern events that happened decades ago, but some involve the Church today: nothing profound, it seems, has changed. And that is of grave importance to Benedict and his legacy. Joseph Ratzinger's life falls neatly into two parts. In the first, he was a liberal reformer, energetically committed to bringing the Catholic Church into the modern world; in the second, which began around 1968, he rejected all that and became a counter-revolutionary warrior, dedicated to liberating the Church from trendy nonsense and restoring the purity which he saw the reform movement as having polluted. As such, his ardour has never flagged. But if his reign as Pope is to have any positive meaning, it will because he leaves the Church leaner, perhaps, less popular, less interested in capturing the world's imagination, but more sure of what it believes in, preaching the Gospel clearly and with confidence. But how can that be with the sleaze lapping at the gates?
For centuries, the Catholic Church tried to carry on as though the modern world did not really exist. Galileo's imprisonment and the denial of the truths elucidated by the likes of Darwin were all part of that compulsion. And when the unification of Italy liquidated the Church's secular power and drove it in upon itself in the few thousand square metres of the Vatican City, something of the sort happened intellectually too. The vast church with its thousands of bishops and millions of believers became a little room, crammed with musty certainties, and with the windows blacked out.
Then in 1958 a fat, aged cardinal called Angelo Roncalli, the Patriarch of Venice, was elected Pope following the death of Pius XII. He was not expected to live long – and he didn't, dying a mere five years later – nor to do much. His was expected to be a holding operation after the 19-year reign of his predecessor, a moment for the Church to stand still and reflect. Instead the man known as the sweetest Pope who ever lived instigated a revolution.
It didn't look or sound like a revolution, and Roncalli himself died in the middle of it. But the Second Vatican Council, attended by 2,800 bishops from around the world in four sessions from 1962 to 1965, turned out to be the most defining event in Christendom since the Reformation. While the Church had been huddled in its blacked-out room, muttering Latin prayers, the world outside had changed. Roncalli, Pope John XXIII as he became, was an unusual prelate in that he was not afraid of this new world, and at the Council the Church he threw open the windows and tried to find a place for it in what the world had become. The Council gave lay people a far more important role in the Church's life, offered accommodation to other Churches by declining to insist that the Catholic Church was the only true one, and counterbalanced the stress on the Pope's primacy by emphasising the principle of "collegiality", giving bishops a bigger say in deciding the Church's direction. It opened the Catholic Church to dialogue with other faiths, and spoke of "working with all men towards the establishment of a world that is more human". It repudiated the age-old notion that the Jews were to blame for the death of Christ, and declared that "the human person has a right to religious liberty". Summing up the Council's work, Cardinal Montini, six months before he became Pope Paul VI, said, "The Church is looking for itself...The Church is also looking for the world,...by engaging in dialogue with the world, interpreting the needs of the society in which it is working and observing the defects, the necessities, the sufferings and the hopes."
The Church, in other words, was seeking to regain the central position in society that it had enjoyed in Europe and beyond for centuries – without reclaiming its former unique authority. And in this remarkable enterprise, a young, dynamic theologian called Joseph Ratzinger, an adviser to the German bishops, was central. He "made anyone's short list of the most important theologians" at the Council, according to Vatican expert John Allen. He and his fellow scholars "broke through...into an open country of greater theological freedom," according to a German expert. He was committed to the Council's goals: a man who was a young seminarian at the Council said Ratzinger "inserted himself energetically for a renewed vision of the Church". Yet within two or three years of the end of the Council, he had executed a 180-degree turn. In 1966, Ratzinger's rapid rise through academia culminated in his appointment to Germany's top theological faculty at the University of Tübingen. But soon afterwards Tübingen became the epicentre for Germany's version of the French tumult of 1968. Political radicalism was on the rampage – and, to his acute discomfort, Ratzinger discovered that the theological faculty became, as he put it, "the real ideological centre" of the march towards Marxism. On the campus, the Protestant Students' Union handed out flyers asking rhetorically, "What is Jesus's cross but the expression of a sado-masochistic glorification of pain? ... The New Testament is a document of inhumanity, a large-scale deception of the masses." Teachers who failed to endorse Marxism were considered timid petty-bourgeois and subjected to barracking and sit-ins.
"I never had difficulties with students," Ratzinger insisted many years later, but the liberal Swiss theologian who had appointed him, Hans Küng (whom the born-again, hard-line Ratzinger was later to purge) said that radical students targeted the lectures given by both him and his protégé. "They came in and occupied the pulpits," he recalled. "Even for a strong personality like me this was unpleasant. For someone timid like Ratzinger it was horrifying."
Vatican II had seen the Church move to embrace the modern world in all its complexity – but for Ratzinger, the events of 1968 proved that the only result would be the Church being suffocated, trampled and abused. It risked, he later wrote, being instrumentalised "by ideologies that were tyrannical, brutal and cruel... The abuse of the faith had to be resisted... Anyone who wanted to remain a progressive in this context had to give up his integrity." Ratzinger chose to retain his integrity by giving up being progressive – and giving up also his cherished place at Tübingen and moving to a new and obscure university in Regensburg.
Instead of trying to embrace the modern world, the Church, in Ratzinger's new view, had to go the other way entirely: to cleave to traditional truth, purge false prophets, bear witness to the faith of the fathers despite the taunts and provocations of the fashionable. And to stand firm. In essence, that is what Joseph Ratzinger has been doing ever since.
"He who goes into the conclave a Pope comes out a cardinal" runs the Roman proverb, but sometimes favourites do win. Experts had written off Cardinal Ratzinger's chances of succeeding his long-term boss, John Paul II, as Pope because he was too close to the ancien régime, too old at 78, and was another non-Italian European when the time was ripe for a Latin American or even an African or an Asian. There was also the fact that Karol Wojtyla was fabulously charismatic – and no one had ever claimed charisma for Ratzinger. The Polish Pope, for all his conservatism, was sympathetic and charming and expansive – again, the polar opposite of the short, shy, prim, vengeful man who had been his theologian-at-arms and enforcer of the faith since 1981.
But in the days following John Paul II's death there was a sea change. Ratzinger swept all before him. He knew and spoke to all the cardinals; he proved he had the energy and desire for the top job. And in a fiery speech on the eve of the conclave, he delivered a withering denunciation of scepticism, secularism and relativism.
"In recent decades, the little boat of thought of many Christians has been...thrown from one extreme to another," he said, "from Marxism to liberalism...from atheism to a vague religious mysticism... New sects are born every day. To have a clear faith is often to be labelled a fundamentalist." All that, he said, was what the Church now had to fight. He was elected in a mere four ballots.
For millions of liberals in the Church who had desperately hoped, after nearly three decades of conservatism, for a change of direction – for a return to the spirit of Vatican II –it was a deeply dispiriting result. "Electing Ratzinger after John Paul," an American Catholic said to me in St Peter's Square immediately after Ratzinger came out on the balcony to acknowledge the crowd, "is like electing Rumsfeld after George Bush." And in the five years since then, Benedict XVI has run true to form.
There have been twinges and vague hints of a softening of the hard line, but they have proved as ephemeral as the smoke pouring out of the Vatican's chimney. Instead what we have seen – and what no one would have predicted from this brilliant scholar and careful, scheming politician – is a long succession of pontifical gaffes. The most celebrated one came during the speech he gave in 2006 at his old university in Regensburg, a typically dense, closely argued lecture, in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor saying, "Show me what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman."
The words provoked a wave of Muslim rage and, in the view of some Vatican-watchers, exploded decades of careful bridge-building by his predecessor. Throughout the Muslim world, wrote Marco Politi in La Repubblica, "John Paul II preached the common faith in one God of the sons of Abraham ... and the common duty of Jews, Christians and Muslims in favour of peace and justice." But the new Pope had ruptured that strategy.
Many such blunders followed. He went to Africa and said that condoms were not the solution to the AIDS epidemic but could make matters worse. He stood in Istanbul's Blue Mosque, praying shoulder to shoulder with its Imam, then denied the possibility of inter-religious dialogue. He refused to sign a UN declaration on the rights of homosexuals and the disabled. He went to Brazil and denied that the indigenous people had had the alien religion forced on them, but said rather that they had unconsciously desired it. He welcomed the schismatics of the Society of St Pius X back into the Church – only discovering afterwards that one of the society's illegally created bishops, Richard Williamson, denied the truth of the Holocaust.
There is a common thread running through all such howlers: ever since those ugly encounters on the campus of Tübingen in 1968, Ratzinger has seen both himself and his faith as cornered, besieged, menaced and undermined, by its out-and-out enemies, but also by its declared friends in secular society, and those trimmers and time-servers "who still passed themselves off as believers when this was useful", as Ratzinger wrote in 1997. In stark contrast to the expansiveness of Vatican II, and the willingness of John Paul II to share ideas with Buddhists and listen to Bob Dylan, it is a paranoid vision, in which the Church and its Pope are the victims of history and must be constantly on their guard, constantly rebuffing those false friends who would lay traps for them.
It is perhaps with regard to the Jews that this comes out most clearly. In 2000, John Paul II, on what he named The Day of Pardon, apologised for the Church's sins against Jews down the centuries; later he made a similar declaration at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel, and inserted a prayer of penitence in Jerusalem's Wailing Wall. When Benedict visited Auschwitz in 2006, therefore, he seemed to be treading in his late boss's footsteps. But, as Jewish commentators were quick to point out, there was a notable difference. True, Benedict spoke of "this place of horror", where "unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man".
But the only victims whom he mentioned by name were Christians; and this supposedly involuntary member of the Hitler Youth appeared to exculpate ordinary Germans of any complicity in the death camps: Auschwitz came about, he said, because "a ring of criminals rose to power ... our people were used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power".
Why did the Nazis want to exterminate the Jews? Benedict used this occasion – when the world was waiting to hear in his words an echo of John Paul's penitence – to explain his own Holocaust theory: it was because "deep down, those vicious criminals wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who...laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind...By destroying Israel...they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith."
Christianity for Benedict XVI is the victim par excellence of the horrible modern world. So even when the Nazis massacred Jews, what they were really doing, "deep down", was massacring Christianity. For observers, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, there was something pathological going on here: this former Nazi was incapable of going down on his knees and begging forgiveness for what was done at Auschwitz – done to those of a different faith – in his name, by his democratically elected leaders. Instead he used the occasion to elbow aside the Jews and assert that Christianity had been the Nazis' real victim.
Being Pope is a lonely job. Pope Paul VI wrote in a private note: "It brings great solitude. I was solitary before, but now my solitariness becomes complete and awesome....to suffer alone....Me and God." Benedict must feel the same way. And in his raptures of lonely suffering, he has succeeded in turning St Peter's into an enormous bunker.
Berlin ~ Monday March 15 2010
Pope Remains Silent as Abuse Allegations Hit Close to Home
By SPIEGEL Staff
Allegations of sexual abuse in the German Catholic Church continue to surface. Questions have been raised about what Pope Benedict XVI may have known about specific incidents of abuse and his brother, Georg Ratzinger, is also under fire. The pope, however, has so far remained silent.
Georg Ratzinger came clean about his transgressions. Indeed, it seemed to be the end of the matter -- one which placed him squarely in the center of Germany's ever expanding Church abuse scandal.
"In the beginning, I slapped (the boys) in the face on a number of occasions," said Ratzinger, who, for decades, was the director of the Regensburger Domspatzen, one of the most renowned boys' choirs in Germany. But he stopped the practice back in 1980, he says, because the state had banned corporal punishment. He says that he "strictly" observed the new law.
. Pope Benedict XVI claims not to have known about an abusive priest who was sent to his diocese from Essen when the pope was still the Archbishop of Munich. Soon after his arrival, the abusive priest was once again involved in pastoral duties -- and once again allegedly involved in sexual abuse. The pope claims to have known nothing of the case.
. The church has promised to investigate the allegations of abuse. But many have criticized Pope Benedict XVI for having remained silent on the scandal thus far.
Former choirboys tell a different story. They still shudder when they recall the reverend's severity -- and his tendency toward violence, even in later years. "Ratzinger was extremely choleric and quick-tempered during choir practice," says Thomas Mayer, who was a student at the choir boarding school from 1988 to 1992. "On a number of occasions, I saw him get so angry that he threw a chair into our group of singers." Once Ratzinger flew into such a rage during choir practice "that even his false teeth fell out," says Mayer.
Ratzinger, 86, now lives in a monastery and has declined to comment further. Clarification of the matter has now been left to his younger brother: Pope Benedict XVI.
Last Friday, Benedict XVI met in the Vatican with the Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Robert Zollitsch, to talk about violence and sexual abuse carried out by Catholic priests in his native Germany. Just like his older brother, the pope would like the world to believe that the Church has changed its ways. Benedict XVI and Zollitsch vowed to shed light on cases of abuse and assist the victims.
But shortly after Zollitsch left for Germany, the pope found himself haunted by his own past as the Archbishop of Munich and Freising. His former archdiocese admitted to the center-left German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that a pedophile priest had been reinstated to a Catholic parish in Munich during Ratzinger's tenure.
What does the pope know from personal experience about the abuse problem? And how sincere is his promise to finally clear up the allegations of abuse?
Hardly anyone in the inner circle of the Vatican is better informed on Catholic sex scandals than His Holiness the Pope. Joseph Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formally known as the Inquisition. Reported cases of abuse automatically landed on his desk. Since 2001, as the Church's most powerful cardinal, and subsequently as the pope, Ratzinger has spearheaded the Vatican's ongoing efforts to shed light on this troublesome issue.
Nevertheless, sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has continued to regularly generate headlines. First, there were the waves of scandals in the US and Ireland. Now, hardly a day goes by in Germany without a new story on further allegations of abuse.
By the end of last week, some 200 presumed victims had contacted Ursula Raue, a Berlin attorney engaged by the Jesuits to handle abuse cases -- and complaints are pouring in from all areas of the Church. Some 150 people have come forward with stories of abuse at the monastery school in Ettal, and roughly 15 former choirboys have grievances relating to the Regensburger Domspatzen.
Complex Nature of the Problem
On top of this, there have been reports from other areas of society. Cases have surfaced virtually everywhere: in the Protestant Church, in secular boarding schools like Odenwaldschule and in children's homes in the former East Germany. The numbers are still a far cry from those linked to the Catholic Church, but they do reveal the complex nature of the problem.
It is a scandal the likes of which German society has not seen for years, and it will likely be months before it fades. Nonetheless, it is being inadequately addressed -- often to a shocking degree.
This is true of the Catholic Church, which continues to damage itself as it hesitates between calls to clear up cases of abuse and the urge to hush things up. But it is also true of the state, as members of the government either let things take their course or drone on about the latest toothless initiative.
Should there be roundtable talks reserved only for members of the Catholic Church, or should they be open to a wide range of social groups? This question alone kept German ministers Kristina Schröder (family affairs), Annette Schavan (education and research) and Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (justice) squabbling for days -- while Chancellor Angela Merkel stayed clear of the fray. A "broad and intensive debate" is required as a preliminary step, said Merkel's spokesman.
At the same time, the German school system has been severely shaken. Former students at the secular Odenwaldschule in Hesse describe systematic abuse that continued until at least the 1990s. Eight former teachers, one of whom taught there until 2003, are the subject of serious allegations made by nearly three dozen former students.
Laid Him on the Bed
One former student says that he was only allowed to call his parents twice a week -- and to do this, he had to use the phone in Gerold Becker's bedroom. Becker was the school principal from 1971 to 1985. When the student was sad about the end of his telephone call, he says that Becker laid him on the bed, undressed him, touched the boy's crotch, and then masturbated.
Another former student told of his fear of being the last one in the shower room with Becker after gym class. Yet another said that he was forced to engage in oral sex. "There was no way of avoiding them," says Gerhard Roese, 48, who now lives in the German city of Darmstadt. He says that he was repeatedly forced to stimulate his music teacher's genitalia with his hand. Distraught over the incidents, the boy confided in the school principal, but he only "smirked, hemmed and hawed, and said something about the Greeks," says Roese.
Becker refuses to comment on the allegations. But questions have also been aimed at Hartmut von Hentig, 84, the doyen of Germany's progressive education movement -- and Becker's long-time companion. Von Hentig has been pursued by journalists for days, he says. SPIEGEL was only able to submit questions to him in written form -- and he faxed back his answers.
In his response, von Hentig warned against false allegations and underscored that so far, "statements have only been collected, they have not yet been verified." He himself visited the boarding school on a number of occasions. Did he not find cause for suspicion?
"No," he replied. When he stayed overnight at Odenwaldschule, he "usually" slept in the official guest room. "The only time I actually saw Gerold Becker interact with the boys and girls at the school was when we all took our meals together in the dining hall or when we walked across the school grounds, and they jumped up to him and he fended them off in a friendly manner: 'You can see that I have a guest.'"
Part 2: Did the Pope Really Not Know?
Von Hentig doesn't blame himself for not having noticed anything. "I of course observed constantly and very carefully: filled with envy of this man who managed to relate so well to children, to explain things to them, to divert their attention or patiently coax them in order to keep them from getting into some kind of mischief. Filled with envy of 'his' wonderful school."
Why do those in positions of authority, including supervisors and witnesses, tend to have such difficulty getting to the bottom of these allegations, as is the case with von Hentig? Why are the state and the Church so helpless when it comes to the abuse of minors?
The Irish have demonstrated that it is possible to break through the wall of silence. For years, Yvonne Murphy, a judge acting at the behest of the government, headed an independent commission investigating how the Irish Roman Catholic Church handled complaints of clerical child sexual abuse.
Her report, released last November, concluded that "the vast majority (of priests) simply chose to turn a blind eye" to abuse.
'No Concern for the Abused Child'
The commission also found that the Church failed to act internally and ignored its own rules relating to priests suspected of abusing children. "For many years offenders were neither persecuted nor made accountable within the Church," the report says, citing an "obsessive concern with secrecy" and concluding that "there was little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child."
In Germany, federal and state governments would still rather leave it up to the bishops to clear up the allegations, despite the fact that these patriarchs of the Church have not indicated that they are genuinely capable of tackling the issue. Many Catholic leaders see incidents of abuse as unfortunate isolated episodes -- and not as a systemic problem.
Such an attitude disregards the fact that this has been a problem for the clergy right from the start -- and throughout 2,000 years of church history. "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea," it is written in the Gospel of Matthew. In his Epistles to the Corinthians, even Paul inveighed against "boy prostitutes" and "pederasts."
Throughout the centuries, popes have threatened priests with punishment should they sexually abuse children. Such members of the clergy "shall be released from the priesthood or locked away to do penance in monasteries," wrote Pope Alexander III (1159 to 1181). They should be "punished according to Church or state laws," threatened Pope Leo X (1513 to 1521).
Despite these condemnations, Germany's bishops today still tend to turn a blind eye to "pederasts" in the clergy.
A Number of Hurdles
To the German Catholic Church's credit, however, Archbishop Zollitsch recently appointed the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, to look into abuse cases. Ackermann promptly received a flood of phone calls, letters and e-mails from alleged victims. Still, he faces hurdles before he can begin his work. The German Bishops' Conference first has to decide where his office will be -- in Trier or Bonn? How many staff members is he allowed to have? What kind of equipment? How large will his budget be?
Fundamentalist bishops like Gerhard Ludwig Müller from Regensburg would rather adopt a more confrontational approach. Müller accuses SPIEGEL of "abusing the freedom of the press" in its reports on the Church, and he says that the magazine "is guilty of violating the human dignity of all Catholic priests and members of the order." He compares today's "anti-Catholic media campaigns against celibacy and Catholic sexual morals" to the "infamous speech by the master of sedition held in Berlin's Deutschlandhalle in 1937" -- a reference to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' attack on the Church. For Müller, in other words, critical reporting on the issue is far worse than the beating, rape and humiliation of children.
Meanwhile, new reports of horrendous abuse continue to pour in from his diocese -- primarily from the Regensburger Domspatzen.
From 1953 to 1992, Monsignor Hans Meier ruled with an iron fist over generations of choirboys who were under his tutelage in the Etterzhausen boarding school, a preparatory school for younger pupils from which the choir draws its recruits.
Religious services were held three times a day. Afterwards, in rows of two, the young boys would march from the church to the dining hall. When mail was distributed, the boys were forced to stand lined up in rank and file, and they often received severe beatings.
'Nothing that Merited My Attention'
Christian Wilbrand began attending the school at the age of nine in 1966. He recalls:The idea was to shatter the personalities of us children. Brutality and our own fear were pervasive. Tortures included beatings with willow branches on the fingertips or the backside, punches to the head, pulling pupils up by their hair and hitting them with books. It didn't take long to beat the childhood right out of us; I often felt like I was on the verge of dying. Once my homeroom teacher hurled me with such force against the blackboard that I lost consciousness. Etterzhausen was a planet of horrors.
Is it conceivable that Georg Ratzinger knew nothing about this? As director of the cathedral choir, he took in the children from the fifth grade up, who then lived in his boarding school in Regensburg. He says: "When we were on concert tours, pupils would tell me about what life had been like for them at Etterzhausen. But their stories didn't strike me as anything that merited my official attention."
In 1971, when Ratzinger had already been the choir director for seven years, a local priest was sentenced to 11 months in prison for sexual abuse. The man in question was both the institution's music prefect and the head of the boarding school. Georg Ratzinger had an apartment in the building that housed the Domspatzen, and his brother Joseph often visited him there. Did they never hear anything about this case?
Former choirboy Mayer, who accompanied a large number of concert tours, says that he also witnessed widespread sexual and physical violence until he left the boarding school in 1992. He says that he himself was raped by older fellow students. Mayer also claims that anal sex took place between students on a number of occasions in a prefect's apartment, right next to the rooms used by the senior classes. "They simply passed on the pressure of a totalitarian system," he says.
Allegedly Knew Nothing
The Regensburg Diocese has refused to comment on any of the allegations -- and Georg Ratzinger is now remaining silent as well.
And what of Benedict XVI? Publicly he has not uttered a single word about the allegations against his brother.
Indeed, he has still refrained from commenting on the cases dating back to his tenure as Archbishop of Munich. The priest Peter H. first came to the attention of the diocese in Essen after he forced an 11-year-old boy to engage in oral sex. He was sent to Munich for therapy. In 1980, as a member of the Diocese Council, Joseph Ratzinger was involved in a decision to grant Peter H. accommodations in a parsonage.
Shortly thereafter, the man was again involved in pastoral duties, with no restrictions whatsoever. In 1986, a court in Ebersberg gave H. an 18-month suspended prison sentence because he had once again sexually abused a minor, this time in the Bavarian town of Grafing.
H. was nevertheless reinstated and he held holiday services with children from the Heart of Jesus Daycare Center in Garching, and had numerous contacts with minors.
Just last Friday, he was scheduled to attend the ITB Berlin tourism trade show and take part in a panel discussion on "pilgrims' paths, village churches and monastery vacations." H. canceled at the last minute.
"Reassigning H. to pastoral ministry was a serious mistake. I take full responsibility," says former Munich Vicar-General Gerhard Gruber.
The pope allegedly knew nothing about the entire case.
By Matthias Bartsch, Frank Hornig, Conny Neumann, Markus Verbeet and Peter Wensierski
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen