As the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, Joseph Ratzinger let a pedophile work in his diocese. The London Times reports
The Pope was drawn directly into the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal for the first time tonight as news emerged of his part in a decision to send a paedophile priest for therapy. The priest went on to reoffend and was convicted of child abuse but continues to work as priest in Upper Bavaria.
The priest was sent from Essen to Munich for “therapy” in 1980 when he was accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex. The archdiocese confirmed that the Pope, then a cardinal, had approved a decision to accommodate the priest in a rectory while the therapy took place.
The priest, identified only as “H”, was subsequently convicted of sexually abusing minors after he was moved to pastoral work in nearby Grafing. In 1986 he was given an 18-month suspended prison sentence and fined 4,000 marks ($2,800 in today’s money). There have been no formal accusations against him since.
The church has been accused of a cover-up after at least 170 accusations of child abuse by German Catholic priests. The scandal broke in January but the claims, which continue to emerge, span three decades. Critics say that priests were redeployed to other parishes rather than fired when they were found to be abusing children.
The archdiocese of Munich and Freising said there had been no complaints against the priest during the therapy at a Church community in Munich. It said the decision to allow him to continue work in Grafing was taken by Gerhard Gruber, now 81, and then Vicar General of the archdiocese.
The Vatican noted in a statement that Monsignor Gruber had taken “full responsibility” for the priest’s move back into pastoral work but did not comment further.
Monsignor Gruber said the Pope, who was made a cardinal in 1977, had not been not aware of his decision because there were a thousand priests in the diocese at the time and he had left many decisions to lower level officials.
“The cardinal could not deal with everything,” he said. “The repeated employment of H in pastoral duties was a serious mistake… I deeply regret that this decision led to offences against youths. I apologise to all those who were harmed.”
However, he did not indicate whether the convicted paedophile would be allowed to continue working in the Church.
The Pope was Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982, then moved to Rome as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a post he held until his election as pontiff five years ago after the death of John Paul II.
“H”, the priest, went on to work in an old people’s home for two years after his conviction then moved to the town of Garching where he became a curate and later a Church administrator. In May 2008 he was removed from his duties in Garching and was not allowed to work with your people, but he still works in the diocese, according to the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which broke the story.
In the cases in Germany I have studied, I have noticed that German courts give far lighter punishments for abuse than American courts do (this is true of all crimes).
Also note that the abuser was allowed to work in a parish until 1998 and is still an active priest. The rules about Zero Tolerance that American bishops made in order to save themselves (and their bank accounts) do not apply outside the United States.
It would be astonishing if Ratzinger had delegated such a sensitive decision to an underling. That alone would indicate a failure to take responsibility.
As Edward Gibbons, no admirer of the clergy, recounted, Pope Gregory the Great took responsibility for the poor of the city of Rome. When a poor man was found starved to death in the streets, Pope Gregory suspended himself for a period as public penance for his failure.
John Paul and Benedict both failed to punish bishops who tolerated and enabled abuse. Perhaps Benedict could start by making an example of himself – and then proceed against other bishops. It would be a striking and historic confession of responsibility – it might redeem Benedict’s papacy, which is being tarnished almost beyond redemption by the continued revelations of sexual abuse by the clergy.