Helpless in the Vatican The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI
Part 7: Protecting Believers from Doubt
This conviction may have been rooted in the widely held belief in the treatability of sexual offenders. The emphasis was placed on the notion that "it was God's duty to protect ordinary believers from all doubt," says Jesuit priest Eberhard von Gemmingen.
The archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, recently offered a deep look into the inner life of the Vatican. When the serious abuse of boarding-school students by Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër came to light in 1995, the officials close to then-Pope John Paul II blocked an investigative commission. The "diplomatic faction" among the pope's courtiers, Schönborn said, tried to blame everything on the media -- against the will of the current pope. "At the time, Ratzinger said to me, sadly: The other party has prevailed."
In his pastoral letter to Irish congregations, Benedict XVI went further than any pope before him. "In her (the Church's) name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel," he wrote. But it was not the admission of personal failure many had hoped for. Benedict criticized some bishops, but not the entire, authoritarian, fossilized "system of bishops." He also failed to take the opportunity to go on the offensive, to speak in the first person and to write about his time as archbishop in Munich.
"Critics will ask: Can Benedict XVI credibly demand greater accountability from bishops, if his own record as a diocesan leader reflects the same pattern of neglect?" writes Benedict biographer John Allen.
Going on the Offensive
Meanwhile, the Vatican seems to have emerged from its state of shock. After the days of awkward silence on a constant stream of new revelations, the Vatican is now going on the offensive, and the pope's defenders are becoming as aggressive as his critics.
Benedict's helpers, old, often retired bishops, armed with microphones and contacts to editors-in-chief and television producers, are stepping up to defend the pontiff. According to a Vatican expert at La Repubblica, the wall they are building around the head of the church is as thick as the wall surrounding the Kremlin.
They are embarking on a defensive war of sorts, a term Antonio Riboldi, the former bishop of Acerra, used when he said that a "war is underway between the Church and the world, between Satan and God." Anyone who attacks the pope has been instructed to do so by the Devil, claims Father Gabriele Amorth, who has been the Vatican's chief exorcist for 25 years.
Shortly before the Easter festivities, Church officials complained about the "stubbornness" of the "anti-Christian hate campaign" in the media, the sole purpose of which, as they argued, is to discredit the pope.
Praying for the Pope
The French bishops, who are in a significantly better position in the abuse affair than their German or Irish counterparts, because they took steps early on to ensure that the relevant offenses would be handed over to civil courts, are sending expressions of solidarity to Rome, and bishops are asking Catholics the world over to pray for the Holy Father "in these difficult times, so that God's grace will sustain him."
German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has always had a somewhat distant relationship to Ratzinger, conceded, in an interview with the Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera, that the church had been silent on instances of abuse in the past, at least in some cases." Calling upon the Vatican to put its house in order, he said that the path to renewal is "irreversible, and that's a good thing." But he too is convinced that the attacks on Benedict "exceed the limits of fairness and decency."
When the pope spoke on Palm Sunday, it sounded as if he were expressing defiant words of comfort for himself. The Christian faith gives us "courage not to be disturbed by the chatter of prevailing opinions," he said to a crowd of 50,000 supporters on St. Peter's Square. Was he saying that the cover-up charges are nothing but the gossip of disbelievers?
'We Have Betrayed the Name of God'
Before giving the sermon, Benedict XVI did something he had avoided on Palm Sundays in previous years. He had himself driven across St. Peter's Square in his popemobile while the faithful cheered and waved their palm fronds. It was no different a little over 2,000 years ago, when Christianity's founder entered Jerusalem. But papal spokesman Lombardi was quick to prevent any improper comparisons from being made. The pope, said Lombardi, had no intention of entrenching himself, but wanted to make himself visible, even to the faithful at the back of the crowd.
One of his closest confidants, on the other hand, has distanced himself from such defiant gestures. On Wednesday, Vienna Archbishop Christoph Schönborn, in a penance service in the city's St. Stephen's Cathedral, offered a confession of guilt: "We confess that we have obscured and betrayed the name of God which means love."
It was, at last, the confession the whole world had been hoping to hear from the German-born pope.
FIONA EHLERS, GREGOR PETER SCHMITZ, ULRICH SCHWARZ, ALEXANDER SMOLTCZYK, PETER WENSIERSKI
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan