Proactive pontiff made sure child protection measures improved
Sex abuseWhere Ireland is concerned, Pope Benedict XVI will probably be best remembered for his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland in 2010, following publication of the Murphy report the previous November.
The letter was unequivocal in its sympathy for victims of clerical child sex abuse and for what Irish Catholics had been through, but also in its criticisms of Irish church leadership.
It was followed by seven high-powered apostolic visitations to the four Irish Catholic archdioceses, the seminaries and religious congregations. The focus seemed to be on orthodoxy and on bringing the Irish church back into line, though few outside the church believed this was relevant to the abuse scandals.
As pope he has been proactive in his dealings with this issue, which so dominated his papacy. On all his trips abroad he has met abuse victims and has seen to it that the church is putting in place adequate child protection measures.
Some would say he was a late starter where this issue was concerned. To which his apologists would point out that in 2001, as dean of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), he wrote to every bishop in the world asking that they forward to him all allegations of clerical child sex abuse presented to them. His intention was to bring consistency and order to how the issue was being addressed.
He would decide whether the allegations would be addressed locally or by Rome. Nowhere in those secret letters, however, did he indicate whether an accused priest should be reported to civil authorities.
It meant few senior figures in Rome were as informed as he was about the extent of the abuse scandal at the beginning of this century.
As pope in 2006 he instructed the 86-year-old founder of the Legionaries of Christ Fr Marcial Maciel to retire to a life of “prayer and penitence” following 20 sex abuse allegations.
Maciel was John Paul II’s favourite and accompanied him on papal visits to Mexico in 1979, 1990 and 1993.
During the latter trip the pope’s description of Maciel as an “efficacious guide to youth” prompted the original accusers to come forward.
In 1994 John Paul appointed Maciel a consultor to the Congregation for Clergy in Rome and in a 2004 letter he congratulated him on 60 years of “intense, generous and fruitful priestly ministry”. He regarded allegations against Maciel as malicious.