Vatican tries to limit damage as German abuse scandal moves closer to pope


THE HOLY See moved into damage limitation mode at the weekend as the growing German clerical sex abuse scandal moved closer to Pope Benedict himself.

The alarm was sounded in the Vatican when German daily newspaper the Suddeutsche Zeitungrevealed details of the mishandling of the case of a paedophile priest in the archdiocese of Munich in the early 80s when the pope was archbishop of Munich.

In January 1980 the then Archbishop Ratzinger approved the transfer of Father “H”, a suspected paedophile, to Munich to undergo therapy. Despite his record, Father “H” was assigned work in the area of pastoral care where he again abused minors. In June 1986 he was convicted of sexually abusing minors, fined DM4,000 and given an 18-month suspended sentence. Father “H” is, apparently, still serving as a priest in Bavaria, Germany.

At the weekend, Gerhard Gruber, who was at the time vicar general in Munich, assumed total responsibility for the decision to readmit Father “H” to pastoral care work, expressing regret and seeming to suggest that Archbishop Ratzinger had not been fully informed.

Not everyone, however, was convinced by the vicar general’s assumption of responsibility. Well-known sex abuse whistleblower Fr Tom Doyle told the New York Times: “Nonsense. Pope Benedict is a micromanager. He’s the old style. Anything like that would have been brought to his attention. Tell the vicar general to find a better line. What he’s trying to do, obviously, is protect the pope.”

Referring both to this case and also to reports last week of sex abuse cases linked to the Regensburger Domspatzen choir, directed for 30 years by the pope’s brother, Msgr Georg Ratzinger, Vatican senior spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi argued at the weekend that the pope had been the victim of a media witch-hunt. “There have been those who have tried, with a certain aggressive persistence, in Regensburg and Munich, to look for elements to personally involve the Holy Father in the matter of abuses . . . It is clear that these attempts have failed.”

In another indication of the Holy See’s damage limitation exercise, Msgr Charles Scicluna, the “promoter of justice” at the Holy Office, last weekend gave an unprecedented interview in which he strenuously defended the record of Pope Benedict during his time as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Holy Office). Msgr Scicluna said the accusation that Pope Benedict had been responsible for a Holy See cover-up was “false and calumnious”.

Msgr Scicluna defended the controversial 2001 norm De Delictis Gravioribus(imposed by the Holy See and criticised as an attempt to cover up sex abuse), arguing that it and the 1962 norm Crimen Sollicitationiswere “never understood as a ban on denouncing the [sex abuse] crimes to the civil authorities”. He also said that from the moment sex abuse crimes became part of the Holy Office’s remit, following a 2001 “ motu proprio” from John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger had displayed “great wisdom and firmness in handling those cases”. The Holy Office prosecutor also confirmed that in the last nine years, his office had handled 3,000 cases from around the world, with the majority of these coming from the US.

In 2003 and 2004, 80 per cent of cases were North American, while from 2007-2009, the US share of the 223 worldwide cases reported had fallen to 25 per cent. He said 60 per cent of the cases “involved sexual attraction to adolescents of the same sex”, 30 per cent involved heterosexual relations, while 10 per cent were “paedophilia in the true sense of the term”.

Italian daily La Repubblicaspeculated on Saturday that the pope’s pastoral letter to the Irish faithful may be issued this morning. The Holy See was unable to confirm this.