DUBLIN, Ireland – Pope Benedict XVI addresses Ireland today in a letter apologizing for the sex abuse scandal here – a message being watched closely by Catholics from Boston to Berlin to see if it also acknowledges decades of Vatican-approved cover-ups.
Victims’ rights activists say that to begin mending the church’s battered image, Benedict’s message – his first pastoral letter on child abuse in the church – must break his silence on the role of the Catholic hierarchy in shielding pedophile clergy from prosecution.
That includes abuses committed decades ago under the pope’s watch, when he was Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich, as well as the pontiff’s role in hushing up the scandals.
As leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger was responsible for a 2001 Vatican edict that instructed bishops to report all cases of child abuse to Vatican authorities under strict secrecy; it made no mention of reporting crimes to police.
“Is it not time for Pope Benedict XVI himself to acknowledge his share of responsibility?” said the Rev. Hans Kung, a Swiss priest and dissident Catholic theologian.
“Honesty demands that Joseph Ratzinger himself, the man who for decades has been principally responsible for the worldwide cover-up, at last pronounce his own mea culpa,” Kung said.
Benedict, who served as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, has yet to speak about the hundreds of abuse cases emerging since January in Germany.
In the United States, where several dioceses including Spokane have been driven to bankruptcy amid abuse lawsuits, activists called on the pope to be candid about his own failings – and for bishops to be held accountable.
“So far the church hierarchy has been very short on accountability. They’ve had to be pushed to come clean about their responsibility for anything,” said Dan Bartley, president of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay group that lobbies for reform within the church. “He needs to call for any bishops involved in the Irish crisis to resign. But unfortunately we’re not expecting that.”