Firestorm Surrounding Pope Benedict – Word on Fire

Father Barron in an update from Rome on the allegations surrounding Pope Benedict XVI:

“I’m just back from St. Peter’s square, where I witnessed Pope Benedict’s Sunday Angelus broadcast on large screens from Castel Gondolfo. The pontiff has spent the past week there, recovering from his grueling Holy Week schedule- and undoubtedly from the massively unfair press coverage he has been receiving of late. As I listen to the endless reportage dealing with the Holy Father’s supposed negligence in matters of priestly sex abuse, I can only shake my head. I want to say, “don’t they realize that they are going after the one man in the world who can do the most to solve this problem?” No one in the world understands the gravity of the situation more fully or has taken more practical steps to solve it as Joseph Ratzinger. On numerous occassions, he has stated how disgusted he is by the “filth” (his word) that has found its way into the ranks of the priesthood, and time and time again, he has taken firm steps to remove abusers and to chastise those who protected them. I would recommend to anyone who doubts Pope Benedict’s resolve to read his recent statement to the Irish church. I feel it is important to make two points in particular. First, the insinuation that by delaying or, as alleged, refusing to “defrock” a priest, Benedict is somehow obstructing justice or “looking the other way” is absurd. The formal removal of a man from the priesthood is the last and most drastic disciplinary action that the Church can take and it is done, appropriately, only after long consideration, consultation and due process. But there are many much more expedient ways, shy of “defrocking,” to remove a priest from ministry or contact with children. In the Milwaukee and Oakland cases, for example, this was done even if the priests in question had not been “defrocked.” The implication that Joseph Ratzinger was trying to find a way to “protect” abusers or to abet their abuse is simply a calumny. And the second point is this: it is extremely problematic and unfair to retroject what we currently know about the sexual abuse of children by priests or any other adult back twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years and use our current knowledge about the phenomenon to indict church officials of the time. Prior to the early 1990’s, most people in the Church and in the culture at large were unaware or only beginning to come to grips with the prevalence of this horror and the high rate of recidivism among abusers. Accordingly, many leaders- and not just in the Church- felt that sex offenders could be treated pharmacologically or therapeutically and then returned to their former lives and occupations. Many bishops throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s sent priest abusers to treatment centers and received reports from therapists recommending that priests could be safely returned to ministry. God knows that we have learned from painful experience how utterly inadequate this approach was, but it seems unfair to hold bishops to standards that developed much later. I find the suggestion that bishops and cardinals were intentionally and with malice aiding and abetting the sexual molestation of children to be an outrageous accusation. Were they uninformed, naive, imprudent, indecisive, and, in some cases, far too willing to trust psychological and legal counsel? Sure. Should those prelates whose lack of proper judgement led to the victimization of so many have to accept personal responsibility for their actions? Yes. But were they consciously fostering sex abuse? No. Finally, and at the risk of sounding defensive, there are people in our society who have a vested interest in embarrassing and undermining the Catholic Church, and they will stop at nothing to achieve this end. The coverage of allegations against the Pope has been blood in the water, and the sharks are circling. The sexual abuse of young people by priests is a crime that cries to heaven for vengeance. As I have said publicly many times, it has undermined the work of the Church in every way, and the Church must do all it can to address it. But these attacks on Pope Benedict are utterly counter-productive to that end.”

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