The Catholic We Are Church International network of groups has called on Pope Francis to establish an independent legal investigation of the files at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) "to determine the global extent of the cover-ups of clerical sex abuse cases".
In a statement, it noted how "a decade ago in Ireland State judges investigating clerical abuse cases sought relevant files from the office of the Vatican's CDF. The CDF refused to supply any files."
The group referred to the recent "detailed Munich independent legal investigation" which "accused . . . [Emeritus] Pope Benedict XVl with failing to report four cases of clerical abuse [by priests] while he was archbishop of Munich". It recalled how "in his statement . . . [to] this Munich report . . . [Benedict] did not tell the truth and severely damaged his own reputation".
In 2001, it said Cardinal Ratzinger (now known as retired pope Benedict) "ordered all reports of clerical sex abuse to be sent directly to the CDF". Since then "the USA, Ireland, Australia, the UK, Chile, Germany and France have over the past 20 years reported on clerical sex abuse cases being systematically covered up in order to protect the reputation of the church".
Yet “Catholic bishops in many countries continue to deny any cover-ups. Every few years another country reports the same systemic pattern,” the group said.
Ireland’s Catholic bishops have reserved comment on the recent Munich report by German investigators, which found it “overwhelmingly likely” that Benedict was aware of at least four abusing and paedophile priests during his time as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.
It also said Benedict's former vicar general in the Munich diocese, Fr Gerhard Gruber, had claimed that, when the case of one abusing priest there during that period became public in 2010, Fr Gruber was "pressured" to take sole responsibility for the church's failure to act, "to protect the [then] pope [Benedict]".
A spokesman for Ireland’s Catholic bishops said that “the Irish bishops won’t comment until at least there is a response by [Emeritus] Pope Benedict himself, and/or a comment by the Holy See”.
There has been no response to the German report from the Association of Catholic Priests leadership team, despite repeated email contact from The Irish Times.
In 2010, while Fr Gruber felt “pressured” to take sole responsibility for the church’s failures in Munich, Benedict wrote a letter to the Catholics of Ireland in which he excoriated Ireland’s bishops for failure to act on clerical child sex abuse cases.
Addressing Ireland’s bishops directly then, he said that such was the gravity of revelations concerning their handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations that its consequences for Catholicism in Ireland were worse than those of the Penal Laws.
Addressing Ireland’s priests in that letter, Benedict said that “all of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with allegations of abuse”.