The World from Berlin Pope's Letter 'Will Not Dispel Dark Clouds' Over Church

Over the weekend, Pope Benedict XVI finally issued his letter of apology relating to the sexual abuse scandal in Ireland. German commentators welcome the move, but argue it is not enough. The pope, after all, still hasn't commented on the abuse scandal in his homeland.


On Sunday, the waiting for Ireland's Catholics came to an end. In a letter read aloud at weekend masses across the country, and handed out to churchgoers in printed form, Pope Benedict XVI expressed "shame and remorse" for the "sinful and criminal" sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic clergy in Ireland for decades.

Though highly anticipated, the apology was not well received. Many slammed the letter for not including a requirement that Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Irish church, step down. Requirements that other church leaders be punished were likewise missed by victims groups. "It is one scandal on top of another," Hugh Keogh in Dublin told the New York Times. "I do not think we have seen the last of this."

In Germany, however, expectations that the pope might finally break his silence on the church abuse scandal that has shaken the country in recent weeks remain unfulfilled. Hundreds of people have come forward since the end of January with stories of sexual maltreatment perpetrated by priests and by teachers at Catholic boarding schools.

Of particular concern are allegations that the pope, back when he was the Bishop of Munich in the 1980s, knew of one particular abusive priest from Essen, who had forced a young boy to perform oral sex before being transferred to Munich. According to SPIEGEL information, the pope, then called Joseph Ratzinger, was aware of the church's decision not to turn the priest over to the police. Just weeks later, the abusive priest was once again working with children, a fact which Ratzinger may also have known about.

German commentators on Monday take a look at the pope's weekend letter and at the ongoing abuse scandal in Germany.

Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

The pope "has done little to indicate the way forward for churches in Ireland or Germany, so that they may atone for past wrongs as well as avoid doing harm in the future. Nonetheless, the experiences of churches in North America and England provide a clear blueprint. It includes lessons regarding the standards for the training of priests; the necessity of breaking with the widespread past practice of showing more concern for the perpetrators than for the victims; and establishment of reporting centers that are institutionally independent of the church."

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"It is high time that investigation into these issues no longer depends solely on the willingness of victims to come forward or the reporting abilities of the press. Rather than a 'round table' organized by the church itself, the inevitable task of victim compensation would best be done by a commission that brought together scientific expertise, integrity and social authority. In this way the pope's suggested triad -- 'healing, renewal and compensation' -- could also become an initiative for church reform on all levels."

Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The central issues of the scandal will remain. Now, as before, and despite all his warm words for the victims, the pope shies away from any debate about sexual morality in the church. And one can only hope that his public silence about the abuse cases in Germany, is not because the pope himself was unhappily involved in such a case when he was the archbishop of Munich."

"To put it delicately, what the pope writes in his pastoral letter also applied back then -- in the gospel according to John (John 8:31-32): "the truth will set you free." Even though, in his letter, he only seeks to apply the principle to others."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"All of this is not just the result of the pressure of new incidents of clerical abuse. For years Joseph Ratzinger has said that the church should come out, clearly and definitely, against sexual abuse. In the Vatican he has not spared powerful church leaders like the founder of the reactionary Legion of Christ, when accusations of the abuse of minors against him emerged. In the face of this history, the letter to the Irish Catholic church is completely respectable. Never before has a pope made it so clear that such sexual abuse of those entrusted to the care of the church, strikes at the heart of all spiritual belief. Despite all this though, the letter is not going to rescue the church from the crisis it is currently enmeshed in. The letter will not do this because it is addressed to the Irish church only. The letter localizes a problem that actually affects the church throughout the world."

"And the pope's letter is also problematic when it tries to come to grips with the reasons for the abuse. Benedict XVI suggests that these problems arose because of a moral laxness in the clergy and church that arose after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (eds note: the 1960s reforms that the church brought about in acknowledge of the changing modern world). The pope says these were mistakenly interpreted as a softening of moral standards. With respect, this is nonsense. Many of the cases from the more distant past, which are currently coming to light, demonstrate this."

"Pope Benedict XVI is merely viewing the abuses from his own belief system. And this is the real and far-reaching weakness of his well-intentioned words. According to this view, the abuse of children and youths is a result of a relativism of values, which has also crept into the church. This is, however, at odds with the real world."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Had the pope actually said anything about the occurrences in his homeland, the letter's impact on the church worldwide would doubtless have been greater. Even without that, the text is explosive."

"That bishops protected perpetrators, that camouflage and concealment were not exceptions: The head of the Catholic church has never been as clear about any of this before. His call for the church to be subject to the law of the land is an unmistakable instruction to all who abide by the church's rules. But his pastoral letter will not dispel all of the dark clouds hovering over the Catholic church. Nor will it put to rest the debate over celibacy, that so many in the church find so troubling."

"The church has a long road ahead of it, during which it must explain a lot as well as renew itself spiritually. And that counts for Ireland, Germany and the rest of the world. The church must travel this road with courage, so that doubts about men of the cloth and any negative impressions of a religious elite are dispelled. Traveling this path timidly will help as little as blaming the media of a plot against the church."

-- Cathrin Schaer


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