Jamie Doward's April 24, 2005 Guardian column, "The Pope, the letter and the child sex claim," closes with the assertion that the reign of Benedict XVI may well be judged in relation to the sexual crimes and criminals long cloistered by the Vatican, and indeed Joseph Ratzinger himself. As the current Pope departs, the time is full for a summation of these crimes as well as these criminals.
As consequence of the courage and tenacity of the victims -- of which there are as many as ten thousand, according to the John Jay College report-- an indictment of the church's top-most offices may now be assembled.
For years, rarely a month has passed without some new and lurid disclosure thickening the already rotten stench of a closed-rank institution obsessed with its self-preservation. In January we were informed of the Cardinal Roger Mahony's removal from duties and the release of priest files which contain the "terribly sad and evil" acts (as Archbishop Gomez termed them) committed throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
This latest revisiting of a decade-long, international outrage recalls what is perhaps the most notorious case of Boston's then Archbishop, Bernard Law, whose cover-ups of child rape led to disgrace and resignation late in 2002. Since that time many thousands of allegations have issued, and a disgusting pattern of institutional obfuscation and evasion, guided from the very top, has emerged.
The rot did not begin with the Holy See's current Pontiff, as Gratian's De Poenitentia shows. An internal discussion over management of sexual crimes -- or sins, if you prefer -- has run across the centuries. What has changed is the capacity of the Catholic Church and its agents to appoint themselves the exclusive judge and jury. Of this depraved and failed effort, let the public record show that Joseph Ratzinger was a leading proponent.
Modern-day policy derives from Vatican documents of the 1960s. Having anticipated a public scandal, the church under John Paul II initiated an internal investigation, under the auspices of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- an office earlier known as the Roman Inquisition and placed in 1981 under the Prefect Ratzinger. Doward's two Guardian columns of April 24 -- the second is titled "Pope 'obstructed' sex abuse inquiry" -- capture the tone and substance of the present Pope's effort to contain the uncontainable, by deferring to the long-standing policy of secrecy and silence, "under the penalty of excommunication" for renegade priests.
For as long as possible, the Vatican enforced the secrets. For as long as possible, senior officials arrogated to themselves the roles of judge and jury. When these efforts collapsed soon after 2000 under the weight of public disclosure, scrutiny and outrage, Ratzinger charged the crimes to the accounts of secularism, asserting that "pedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children." Suddenly the church, that sacred chalice from which alone flowed the absolute knowledge of beauty and moral rectitude and God's Truth, was simply an unwitting victim of moral relativism.
The truth, however, is more nuanced than that, and less amenable to the Vatican's propaganda. Whatever one may say of moral relativism, it happens that every step forward, under Benedict XVI, was compelled by secular pressure. Once the multiple defensive tactics had failed, apologies were issued and commitments to doing better were made.
In Ireland, the church was compelled by law to report crimes to secular authorities, while in Canada a flood of lawsuits brought lawyers for the Catholic entities into negotiations of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.
Meanwhile, the disgraces of both Bernard Law and Roger Mahony were rewarded by Ratzinger with rich appointments -- in particular to the Roman Curia, the central governing body of the Catholic Church. Both Law and Mahoney participated in the Papal Conclave which selected the now-retiring Vicar of Christ, as Mahoney will do once again in the choosing of a successor. Also participating in the 2005 enclave was Ratzinger-ally and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who in 2010 characterized abuse allegations as "petty gossip of the moment" and who seven years earlier had intervened on behalf of the convicted sexual abuser Marcial Maciel in an effort to shut down the investigation.
With filth such as this at the very core of the Vatican, we should not be surprised that above all imperatives obtains a cardinal injunction to somehow renew and revive an institution caught in the act. Ratzinger's Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, for example, dwells pitifully upon the tribulations of the Roman Church in the late 1600s, inadvertently reminding us of a more recent Ireland and more recent sacrifices of children to the same sordid religious tribalisms.
Joseph Ratzinger not only failed to renew the Catholic church -- he created the very conditions which will make a meaningful renewal improbable.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, splashes holy water during his visit to the Church of the Nativity in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem on February 27, 2008. AFP PHOTO/MUSA AL-SHAER (Photo credit should read MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)
TRIER, GERMANY - APRIL 13: Cardinal Marc Ouellet holds a mass in celebration of The Pilgrimage of the Holy Robe at the Cathedral of St Peter on April 13, 2012 in Trier, Germany. The Pilgrimage of the Holy Robe runs from April 13 to May 13, during which hundreds of thousands pilgrims are expected to view the Holy Robe. The robe, said to have been worn by Jesus Christ leading up to his crucifixion, is housed by the cathedral and rarely displayed for public viewing. (Photo by Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)
The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi poses during the presentation of Pope Benedict XVI's new book 'Childhood of Jesus' to the press on November 20, 2012 at the Vatican. “Childhood of Jesus” is the third volume of Joseph Ratzinger's 'Jesus of Nazareth' series. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (L) and the archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola chat at La Scala theatre in Milan on June 1, 2012 during the 7th World Meeting of Families. Benedict attended a concert at the prestigious Scala opera house to hear Beethoven's Ninth Symphony conducted by Daniel Barenboim. AFP PHOTO / POOL / DANIEL DAL ZENNARO (Photo credit should read DANIEL DAL ZENNARO/AFP/GettyImages)
President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue of the Vatican City Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (C) pay his respects at the Golden Temple Sikh Shrine in Amritsar on November 11, 2011. Tauran along with four members visited the city to attend a religious seminary on Sikhism and Christians to be held at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar on November 12. AFP PHOTO/NARINDER NANU (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Benedict XVI talks with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of CEI (Italian Bishops' Conference), during an audience with the Curia for Christmas greetings, in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace, in Vatican City, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. The Pope met with Cardinals and members of the Roman Curia for an exchange of greetings ahead of the year end festivities. (AP Photo/Claudio Peri, Pool)
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan speaks to the press in his residence, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Dolan says he was as startled as the rest of the world about Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he will resign later this month due to failing health. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines takes place for an audience with the pontif on November 26, 2012 at Paul VI hall at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI led an audience to the six non-European prelates appointed two-days ago as new members of the College of Cardinals. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, right, arrives for a meeting, at the Vatican, Monday, March 4, 2013. Cardinals from around the world have gathered inside the Vatican for their first round of meetings before the conclave to elect the next pope, amid scandals inside and out of the Vatican and the continued reverberations of Benedict XVI's decision to retire. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) CORRECTION: An earlier photo incorrectly identified Bernard Cardinal Agre, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cote D'Ivoire as Cardinal Arinze
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