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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.