Benedict XVI’s resignation will catch the attention of those awaiting justice for the victims of the Catholic Church’s litany of sexual crimes. Until now the Pope has hidden behind a thick, legal fog, dodging the law as a Head of State. But on February 28 he will lose this supposed special status, and there will be questions waiting. In 2011 charges of Crimes against Humanity were filed against the pontiff at the International Criminal Court. They are available freely online; I draw some information from Section three.
To list just a few of his sins, as Archbishop of Munich in 1980 Joseph Ratzinger allowed a priest, Peter Hullerman, who had forced an 11 year-old boy to perform oral sex on him, to receive psychiatric treatment. (I do not put the word ‘Reverend’ in front of these men’s names, since the Latin form ‘reverendus’ means ‘one who must be respected’.) The psychiatrist recommended that Hullerman never work with children again, but he was allowed to continue his pastoral work unsupervised, with children. Although someone lower down in the diocese initially took the blame, the memo that approved the transfer was copied to Ratzinger, as the New York Times pointed out in an article available on their website. The police were kept out of it, and Hullerman was not convicted until 1986.
In 1996 another priest, Lawrence Murphy, was investigated by the Church for abusing as many as 200 boys in Wisconsin. Ratzinger, then the head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (like a Catholic FBI) was informed twice about the case, with no response. A secret canonical trial began at the urging of Ratzinger’s number two, but Ratzinger put a stop to it when Murphy, the abuser himself, wrote to him requesting leniency. These documents are also available from the NYT website for free; they include graphic victims’ testimony and come with a trigger warning. Murphy was never convicted by any civil or canonical court.
Either Ratzinger’s postman had been at the communion wine or he was making a habit of not answering letters, since he failed to respond to two more in 2004 and 2008, concerning the abuse of a woman who was seeking compensation but whose case was held up as the Church hid behind the statute of limitations. Ratzinger never wrote back, and she lost her case.
I could go on (and on), but just one more will suffice. In 1981 a priest named Stephen Kiesle was convicted by a court of molesting two boys. An actual civil court mind you, not a canonical court, which deserves as much authority over legal process as ‘Grandma’s Footsteps’ deserves over the conservation of wolves. Ratzinger allowed Kiesle to keep his job and to work with children again. In a now infamous letter which you can find on the BBC news website Ratzinger placed “the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner”, i.e. ‘the Church’s reputation should be considered alongside justice for the victims of child rape’. (Note also the evasive use of the word “petitioner”, as opposed to “victim”.) As the icing on the cake, Kiesle was convicted again for molesting a young girl in 2004.
I confess I drew you here with an eye-grabbing and provocative title, which was just a little bit of hack journalism on my part (‘Question the Pope about some Potentially Criminal Activities!’ isn’t as snappy.) But Joseph Ratzinger has aided in creating a climate in which the rape of children was allowed to go unpunished. It has been said in his defence that he has done more to tackle this issue than previous Popes, but this does not exculpate him from the problems he caused. It’s true, in 2001 he insisted that all cases of suspected child rape be reported to his office, but he also stipulated that this be done without informing the police. (Again, this order, bearing his signature, is online.) Throughout his career Ratzinger has chosen to handle cases of child rape as internal affairs rather than involve the actual law. He has obstructed and interrupted the course of justice and, for a man who claims to be morally infallible, seems to have serious ethical deficiencies.
Bizarrely, even those who don’t believe in his infallibility shy away from criticising him even when confronted with evidence. This article was originally written for the Huffington Post, who refused to publish it; you can see how it would have worked better if I could have linked you directly to the documents I cited rather than tell you where to find them. If you’re reading it in The Saint then its editors have shown themselves to have some serious chutzpah and a slither of pride for the rich journalistic tradition of pissing hot truth piss onto people’s parades. But this article contains nothing new: the evidence has been in the public domain for years, yet somehow drawing attention to it is taboo. Perhaps this is for fear of repercussion, or, God forbid, the fear of being seen criticising religion in a public forum, although when crimes and cover-ups are involved I’m happy to let doctrine and dogma bugger off.
I cannot think of any good reason why the clergy should not have to answer to the courts like other citizens; in fact the idea of a separate class that is above the law is disgusting to me. Though I might be accused of muckraking, with Ratzinger’s resignation he may be finally taken in for questioning, and the information he gives on these rancid criminals help provide justice for their victims.