What Is the Pope's Role in Church Abuse Scandal?

Ratzinger Knew Police Hadn't Been Informed

A policeman's son, Ratzinger was well aware that no one had notified the police and that everything had been handled by the Church internally. Neither he nor his diocese reported the case to the authorities. Instead, a brief, succinct statement concerning the chaplain's application was entered into the minutes: "The request is granted."

Barely two weeks later, H. had been assigned to pastoral duties again. Ratzinger allegedly knew nothing of this. But his office did receive a note from his vicar-general at the time, Gerhard Gruber, concerning the chaplain's placement in the Catholic parish of St. Johannes Evangelist in Munich. Did Ratzinger overlook the memo? Gruber now says that he alone was responsible.

In the town of Grafing near Munich, H. again sexually abused several pupils. In 1986, a local court in Ebersberg in Bavaria handed out an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a 4,000 deutsche mark fine to H. He was also convicted of distributing pornographic materials.

Priest 'Always Kissed Children on the Mouth'

Church officials then simply transferred the pedophile from Grafing to Garching -- but apparently without informing the parish there of his history. Once again, children at his new place of work complained that their priest always kissed them on the mouth -- a practice they found disgusting. Mothers complained to the parish council, but nothing happened. In 2008, the first of his victims in Essen came forward: Wilfried Fesselmann, 41, was 11 at the time of the alleged abuse. The priest was transferred again, this time to his current place of residence in the town of Bad Tölz. Once again no warning was issued to the new parish, where the priest was able to conduct church services with the young people of the area. And it was not until last week that H. was finally suspended from priestly service.

And that is precisely the focus of the current discussion. What responsibility do people with knowledge of what has been done bear? And what about about the perpetrators' superiors? How could they enable pedophile priests to continue working in the Church? And what has the current pope done during his career in the Church to combat a sex problem that he is well aware of?

It was not only in Munich, but also later in Rome that Ratzinger missed countless opportunities to vigorously tackle the issue. For over 23 years -- until his election as pope -- he headed the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, meaning that he was also responsible for dealing with reports of sexual abuse. From 1981, Cardinal Ratzinger exercised this power from a fortress-like palace in the Vatican, where he passed through heavy iron-studded gates every morning and every evening. Above the gates, the walls are still emblazoned with the coat of arms of the Holy Office, also known as the Inquisition, which held Galileo Galilei under arrest here and sentenced Giordano Bruno to death as a heretic.

For decades, Ratzinger accepted the fact that little attention was paid to the problem of sexual abuse. Instead he focused on reprimanding Latin American church activists who advocated liberation theology, a movement that defines the teachings of Jesus Christ differently, as well as feuding with controversial critics of the Catholic Church such as Eugen Drewermann and Hans Küng. His rare public statements during this period were dedicated to pet topics like "faith and reason."

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