More on the Pope-Emeritus’ Record

For decades in Munich, sexual assaults by clergymen went unreported and unpunished. The victims of these heinous crimes remained unacknowledged and invisible, their lives wounded by the violence they had suffered.

It was a human-rights catastrophe of the highest order. (And this happened, of course, not just in Munich, but apparently in every Catholic community on earth.)

Last month we considered the report that a team of Munich investigators prepared, intended to cast light on this catastrophic period of secret human-rights violations. At the Archdiocese’s behest, the investigators focused their study on the decision-making of the Archbishops.

The report included information from Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI’s tenure as Munich Archbishop. We conducted a point/counter-point about how to understand the information in the report.

Pope Benedict New Evangelization

Now the Vatican has published the pope-emeritus’ legal team’s official rebuttal of the Munich report.

The rebuttal is, as they say, slim pickings. But it still manages to be brazenly dishonest, in three ways.

1. At a now-infamous meeting that took place in January of 1980, Cardinal Ratzinger agreed to welcome Father Peter Hullermann into the archdiocese. Prior to that fateful date, Hullermann had already sexually abused at least one, and likely three, minors. He would go on to abuse many more, over the ensuing decades.

The Ratzinger-team rebuttal published last week insists that, at the meeting in January 1980, Cardinal Ratzinger did not decide to employ Hullermann in pastoral work. Rather, Hullermann was simply accommodated in a parish rectory, so that he might undergo psychotherapy in Munich.

The rebuttal’s implication here is this:

Ratzinger never agreed to anything dangerous, as far as exposing minors to sexual assault, because “at the meeting it was not decided to engage the priest in pastoral activity.”

But this implication is patently dishonest. Any priest resident in a parish rectory is ipso facto involved in pastoral work, unless the bishop explicitly prohibits it.

Every Catholic who has ever practiced the faith in a big city, with student priests living in it, knows: Priests living in parish rectories, even if not assigned as pastor or parochial vicar, nonetheless celebrate Masses and hear confessions on a regular basis. From the point-of-view of the Catholic in the pew, the resident priest is simply another priest. Just as likely to be invited over for dinner, just as likely to be granted access to vulnerable minors.

To avoid this, the Archbishop would have had to forbid that Hullermann celebrate the sacraments. Explicitly forbid it. Ratzinger certainly did not do that.

Okay, maybe things were different in Munich in 1980 than they have been in every other big city with Catholic parishes that I have ever been in, in my life? If so, then forgive me for making a false charge here.

But if Munich was like any other place, then this Ratzinger-rebuttal implication is pure b.s.

Ratzinger put Hullermann in a position to prey on additional victims. That is the simple fact.

Francis and Benedict

2. We discussed before how the pope-emeritus’ team previously insisted that Ratzinger was not at the January 1980 meeting when Hullermann was welcomed to Munich.

But then the investigators produced the minutes of the meeting, which prove that the Archbishop was, in fact, there.

The rebuttal published last week tries to paint a picture. The Ratzinger team had to operate under supposedly difficult circumstances. They had to process large amounts of information during a short time period. Therefore, they made an honest mistake about the meeting.

Now, I don’t think we will ever know for sure whether it was an honest mistake or not. Perhaps it was.

But the picture the Ratzinger team tries to paint is itself fundamentally dishonest.

The fact is, it was the investigators where were working with unfamiliar documents, trying to understand material that was new to them. None of it was new to Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger was there when it happened in the first place. He was directly involved. He was fricking in charge.

Let’s remember why the investigation occurred: Human rights violations happened on a shocking scale, in secret, for decades. The investigators were not on the inside at the time; they sought information they did not have.

When those investigators seeking information first contacted the pope-emeritus, asking him to contribute his memories to their study, he could have replied:

‘Look, I’m an old man now. You’re asking me about things from over half a lifetime ago. I have not retained any records myself, and my memory is clouded by the years. I don’t have much to contribute to the record at this point.’

That would have been a perfectly reasonable response. But Ratzinger and his ‘friends’ did not respond that way. Actually, they did, at first. But then they changed their minds. The pope-emeritus insisted that he had clear memories and could contribute information that would make the record more complete. Great.

But you can’t say, on the one hand, ‘Yes, I can give you information that you don’t have. Send your questions,’ and then say, ‘You gave me too much information to deal with in too short a time.’ As if you never heard anything about any of it before. As if it were all new material to you.

No. It was your own daggone life, Your Holiness. Your own decisions.

Benedict Francis kneeling

3. The Ratzinger-team rebuttal asserts that:

As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse.

The reasoning behind this assertion is: The investigative report acknowledges that it has no proof one way or the other about what Ratzinger knew about the criminal acts of his priests.*

* That is, during his time as Archbishop. Remember: some of the criminals’ cases eventually made it to Rome, and Ratzinger then served as the competent Vatican official, or as pope. The investigators asked about what he learned while in Rome, and the pope-emeritus categorically refused to answer those questions.

And yet one of the ‘friends of Ratzinger’ has the temerity to call Pope Benedict XVI “the father of transparency.” Come on.

Anyway, the report concludes that Ratzinger probably knew at least something about Hullermann’s criminality (as well as other criminal priests.) The report has evidence supporting that conclusion, including testimony from parishioners at a parish to which Hullermann was assigned while Ratzinger served as Archbishop of Munich.

All that said, the investigators acknowledge that they have no certain proof.

As cited above, the rebuttal insists, therefore, that, in the absence of such proof, we must conclude that Ratzinger knew nothing.

That would be our necessary conclusion–if this were a criminal case, and we were jurors with the authority to put Joseph Ratzinger in jail.

But that is never what the investigation was. The report is an honest attempt to bring to light the facts. The facts of a long-term, secret human-rights-abuse catastrophe.

The investigators asked the pope-emeritus to participate as a source of information, not as a criminal defendant. And yet Ratzinger and his team have acted, from beginning to end, as if the man were a defendant on trial.

This confirms, rather than weakens, the report’s conclusions. To this day, Ratzinger makes the whole thing about himself. His long-time secretary Georg Ganswein says that Benedict’s enemies cooked up the report to destroy his legacy. Mind-blowing small-mindedness and narcissism.

last-judgment

When the Vatican published the Ratzinger-team rebuttal, they also published a letter from the pope-emeritus. In his letter, the aging Benedict expresses his hope that he will meet a friend as judge, after he breathes his last.

Indeed, we all must hope for that. Otherwise, we are doomed.

But Ratzinger was no friend to the innocent and defenseless young people who suffered at the hands of criminal priests in Munich. The investigators have brought to light many, many facts that lay hidden for decades.

The most-charitable interpretation of those facts, when it comes to Joseph Ratzinger, is this: He was too self-important and ambitious to be bothered with such details as whether or not his priests were dangerous criminals. To this day he wants to cover that fact up.

May the Lord have mercy on him for it.

Pope Benedict XVI–the Man Behind the Curtain

Card. Frings and Joseph Ratzinger

Our then-Archbishop, Theodore Card. McCarrick, participated in the April 2005 conclave that elected Joseph Ratzinger pope.

I remember how elated I was. Ratzinger the pope! I asked the older priests I lived with at the time if we could share a bottle of champagne that evening before dinner.

We didn’t. They were neither pleased by the election, nor amused by my request.

champagneWe know now, of course, that McCarrick’s case was hanging fire in the Vatican in 2005. It had been hanging fire there for nearly a decade. The file already had multiple denunciations for sexual abuse in it.

We also now know that after Benedict took his seat in the Chair of Peter, McCarrick sent the new pope a gift of $200,000 cash.

A year later, in May 2006, McCarrick had reached the mandatory age of 75, and he retired as Archbishop of Washington. He began his new life as a full-time Cardinal diplomat, with no public declaration of any kind about his many ecclesiastical and civil crimes.

Fast forward fifteen years: An investigator working on the Vatican McCarrick report questions the now-retired Pope Benedict about McCarrick’s 2006 transition from Archbishop to globe-trotting Cardinal.

Benedict insists to the investigator that he had sent a “clear message of disapproval,” by secretly insisting on McC’s timely retirement as Archbishop, rather than allowing him two extra years in office.

Wait. “Clear message of disapproval?” Clear to whom?

Ratzinger Bergoglio and JPII
Pope John Paul II and Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

Joseph Card. Ratzinger served as Archbishop of Munich, Germany, from 1977 to 1982. Then he became a Vatican official, then the pope.

Last week, a Munich law firm released a report they had prepared for the Archdiocese of Munich. The firm studied the archives of the archdiocese, from 1945 to 2019, in order to 1. identify criminal sex-abuser priests, and 2. consider how the archdiocese dealt with those priests’ cases.

The Munich report will benefit our Church tremendously in the long run. Like the French CIASE report, this report will help to facilitate a full encounter with the Catholic criminal-sex-abuse cover-up, one of the greater evils ever perpetuated by human beings.

The Munich report tackles the problem with a uniquely helpful approach: It assesses the decisions made by Church officials, measuring those decisions by the officials’ own rhetoric. That is: we as a Church stand with Christ on the side of the weak and suffering.

Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros
Camille Biros and Ken Feinberg

The Munich report is the total flip-side of our American “Reconciliation Programs” coin. Our own Reconciliation Program here in Richmond, like others done here in the US, involved an outside law firm studying the Church’s archives and identifying cases of sexual abuse. We paid out millions of dollars, just like the Archdiocese of Munich did.

But otherwise the two approaches to the problem are like photographic negatives of each other:

–In Munich, the lawyers gave the victim survivors’ the benefit of the doubt and doggedly cross-examined the Church officials. In our program, we did the opposite.

–In Munich they produced 1,900 pages of illuminating information for the general public. Here we produced 0 pages.

Benedict Francis kneeling

Friedrich Card. Wetter succeeded Ratzinger as Archbishop of Munich. He read the Munich law firm’s report over the course of the past few days. From the nursing home where Wetter lives, he made this statement:

I only became aware of the fatal consequences that abuse inflicts on children in 2010. I had not had a serious and thorough discussion up to that point. I didn’t deal with the perpetrators with the necessary severity. I have not lived up to my responsibility.

Indeed.

The Munich report covers the cases of dozens of criminal priests. The law firm, however, decided to single out one case for extra research. They came to regard this particular case as an emblematic instance of the long-term cover-up typically practiced by Church officials. The report calls it “Case 10.” It is the well-known case of Father Peter Hullermann.

I have referred to Father Hullermann here before. The German magazine Der Spiegel told his story back in 2010.

In 1979, as a young priest on a parish camp-out, Hullermann forced an 11-year-old boy to give him oral sex.

At that time, Hullermann belonged to the German diocese of Essen. The boy’s parents complained to the Church, and when diocesan officials confronted Hullermann, he admitted what he had done. He consulted with a psychotherapist in Essen, who referred him to another therapist, in Munich.

(No one, of course, told the police about the crime. Actually, I should say crimes, because Hullermann likely did the same thing on at least two other occasions between 1977 and 1979.)

Now, if you are a careful Vatican-news watcher, you know that our pope-emeritus made an official statement yesterday regarding a meeting in Munich that took place on January 15, 1980. He acknowledged yesterday that, ‘Yes, I actually did attend that particular meeting.’

Seems like a random thing to acknowledge, out of the blue. Certainly a 94-year-old retiree might have a hazy memory of events from half a lifetime ago. Maybe not such a big deal?

Anno Fidei inauguration Benedict XVI

Actually, it’s a very big deal. Here’s the context:

At the meeting in question, the Munich “Ordinariate”–that is the governing Church officers–agreed to accept Hullermann as a transfer from Essen.

The bishop of Essen didn’t just neglect to inform the police; he also did not fully inform the officials in Munich about Hullermann–at least not in writing. He had a statement from the victim’s parents, as well as the Essen psychologist’s report, but he did not send those documents to Munich.

The Essen bishop did, however, indicate in a letter to Munich that Hullerman posed a “danger.” That January 1980 letter sits in the Archdiocese of Munich’s files, marked as cc’d to the Archbishop.

Hullerman went on to abuse many more children during his decades of priestly service. A civil criminal court convicted him in 1986, but gave him a suspended sentence. The Munich Archdiocese kept him in ministry until 2010. (Hence Cardinal Wetter’s apology above.)

Last fall the Munich law firm working on the report repeatedly wrote to pope-emeritus Benedict, confronting him with the facts of Hullerman’s 1980 transfer from Essen to Munich.

They also confronted him with facts about Hullerman’s move a year later, from one Munich parish to another, after talk of sexual acts with children at his first Munich assignment.

And they confronted Benedict with questions about 2010. In that year, the priest who had served as Ratzinger’s right-hand man in 1980 took the full blame for the cover-up, when the Hullermann story hit the press.

Benedict claims to have no memory whatsoever of Hullermann. He claims he never saw the letter from Essen indicating a danger (even though it’s marked as received by his then-office.)

Now, again: one might sympathize with a 94-year-old retiree having to answer questions about a meeting that took place during the Carter administration. But this was no cold case.

As I mentioned, Der Spiegel covered the whole thing in 2010, as did other German periodicals, and the New York Times as well. The question of Benedict’s role in Hullermann’s career sat squarely on the Catholic-news front burner.

We can safely say this: Joseph Ratzinger’s reputation in  Germany rests on his involvement in the case of Father Peter Hullermann. And he knows it.

In a letter Benedict sent to the law firm in December, our pope-emeritus insisted: not only did he know nothing of Hullermann, he had not been present for the January 15, 1980 meeting at which Hullermann’s transfer to Munich was approved.

[NB. I have undertaken to translate pertinent sections of the Munich report into English. Not perfect, but serviceable. Click HERE to access the on-line files.]

But then Benedict faced a problem this month. The law firm has the minutes of the January 1980 meeting. Those minutes prove beyond any doubt both that 1. Benedict was present at the meeting and 2. he had personally spoken with the bishop of Essen about Hullermann, twice (at least).

In other words: Ratzinger, caught in a lie.

Back in 2019, Benedict published an essay about the sex-abuse crisis. He made a dishonest statement in that essay. He blamed the “Sexual Revolution of 1968” and its effect on children for the “extensive collapse of the next generation of priests.”

But..

1. This chronology is at least a decade off. In his essay, Benedict laments explicit sex-education in the 1970’s. But Hullermann and his contemporary priest-criminals were already adults by then.

2. The sexual revolution, for all its many faults, never led to the widespread acceptance of pedophilia. Some extreme libertines have argued for free sex between adults and minors, but Western society as a whole has always rejected this. Since the advent of Christianity, we have considered the sexual abuse of a child to be a damnable crime.

That is, all of us have thought that, except our bishops and popes.

The Munich report concludes that Ratzinger knew that Hullermann posed a danger, and did nothing about it. If this is true, Joseph Ratzinger owes a lot of people a personal apology, and whatever reparation he can muster.

Is the law firm wrong, and Benedict isn’t lying? He really knew nothing about one of his priests–a priest that all the other diocesan officials knew was a serial pederast?

That would actually probably be even worse. A shepherd that clueless actually became the freaking pope? Seriously?

The law firm takes no position on the question of whether or not the Vatican and the Munich chancery pressured the right-hand man from 1980 to take all the blame in 2010. There isn’t enough evidence to come to a conclusion about that.

But that lack of evidence has resulted from Benedict’s own recalcitrance. Here is our pope-emeritus’ repeated response to all of the law firm’s questions touching on anything that happened after the early days of 1982:

That question does not pertain my service as Archbishop of Munich, so it lies outside the scope of your inquiry.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchOur “transparent” Church.

I remain a committed conservative Catholic priest. I love the Catechism with Ratzinger’s imprimatur more than just about anything in the world.

But I was wrong when I wanted to drink champagne on the evening of April 19, 2005. I thought it was a happy day. It wasn’t.