The Vatican Circles the Wagons and Goes into Damage Control Mode
A German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, implicated Benedict in the re-assignment of a paedophile priest, while Benedict was the Romish archbishop of Munich. As the accusations began to swirl, the Vatican circled the wagons and went into full damage-control mode, rushing to its pope’s defence and denouncing what it termed aggressive attempts to drag Benedict into the spreading scandals. It trotted out the usual excuse that the decision to send the priest back was made without Ratzinger’s knowledge. This is a cop-out. Usually, Rome says that bishops know about, and are responsible for and control, everything that happens under them – but when it comes to some priestly sin, suddenly these superiors all know nothing! It’s all about avoiding scandal, and always has been.
The Vatican stated that Benedict had long confronted sexual abuse cases with courage. But this is simply not true. Jesuit priest Fergus O’Donoghue, editor of the Irish Jesuit journal, Studies, admitted the falsehood of this when he said, “The pope was no different to any other bishop at the time. The Church policy was to keep it all quiet – to help people, but to avoid scandal. Avoiding scandal was a huge issue for the Church.” And he added: “Of course there was a cover-up.” But worse, he said, was “the systematic lack of concern for the victims.”
According to Vatican spokesman Lombardi, Ratzinger had done nothing more than welcome the paedophile priest to his diocese in order that the man could undergo psychotherapeutic treatment, but he did not approve the priest’s pastoral re-integration. Rome claimed that it was not Ratzinger who gave a new pastoral assignment to the priest in the early 1980s, but rather the vicar general of the Munich archdiocese at the time, a priest named Gerhard Gruber. And, it said, priest Gruber had assumed “full responsibility.” Gruber stated in the communiqué, “the reassignment of [the paedophile priest] to pastoral work was a grave mistake. I assume full responsibility for this action. I deeply regret that this decision allowed crimes to be committed that involved young people and I ask forgiveness from all those who have been harmed.” Well, maybe it was entirely his responsibility, but then again maybe not. When priest Gruber made this statement, we suspected that pressure was brought to bear on him to “fess up” and take the heat so as to leave Benedict free of any whiff of scandal. After all, as a mere priest Gruber is expendable and if he needs to be sacrificed for the cause, so be it: anything to keep the “Holy Father”, the “Vicar of Christ on earth”, out of the hot seat.
And as it turns out, our suspicions may have indeed been entirely correct. Gruber finally broke ranks and alleged that he was indeed bullied into taking responsibility so as to protect Benedict! His friends told the German publication Der Spiegel that Gruber was under immense pressure to act as a scapegoat and take responsibility for the decision. He wrote to a friend that he had been faxed the statement he made, already prepared for him, in which he assumed “full responsibility”, and that he felt pressure to sign it. But now, according to the magazine, he was greatly upset by the fact that the bishopric had implied that he had acted alone in offering help to the paedophile priest, and had not turned him over to the police.
Vatican spokesman Lombardi tried to tell the world that media attempts to implicate Benedict in cases of priestly sex abuse had failed; but who was believing him? In a communiqué broadcast on Vatican Radio he said: “It is obvious that in recent days there are people who have tried – with a certain tenacity in Regensburg and Munich – to find ways to personally involve the Holy Father in the matters relating to the abuses. For every objective observer it is evident that these efforts have failed.” Well, actually, no – for every objective observer it is very evident that Benedict was involved in some way.