Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious. I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.Is it churlish on my part to point out that the Pope, in his prior role of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was the ultimate authority overseeing investigation of such allegations, and that his role as been described as obstructing the inquiry? Or that the earlier papal edict reaffirmed in Benedict's 2001 letter giving rise to the claim of obstruction was in fact applied by the Church in Ireland, notably by now-Cardinal Brady, as mandating secrecy from the secular authorities, leading to clergy extorting oaths of secrecy from children reporting molestation? Or that, in his own capacity as an archbishop in Germany, he handled sex abuse complaints in a manner indistinguishable from the bishops in Ireland he now reproves?
The Pope does not address his role in these matters; he rather states:
On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the future. I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them. Earlier in my pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of Ireland, “to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected, and above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes” (Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).The emphasis is in in the original. And that is the problem, here. We have an assumption of invincible innocence, essentially, on the Pope's part, that ruins all of his expressions of sorrow and empathy for victims, because it ignores his own responsibility, personal and institutional, for what he has done and left undone. His exhortation exempts himself. Indeed, his response and that of his defenders has been dismissed as "whining about a campaign against his person" by theologian Hans Kung. A harsh characterization, no doubt, but frankly, not inapt in view of the Vatican's resposes in the last weeks.
With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God’s people in Ireland, to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal.
The Catholic Church is not just the hierarchy, and does much good work. And Benedict has been much more willing to confront this issue than his predecessor. Fairness compels that this be remembered. But this crisis is in part the result of a half century systemic and systematic failure of leadership for which not one of the leaders has taken responsibility. That bill is now due, and if Benedict dishonors it, as he has done to date, the Catholic Church's institutional credibility may be lost for generations to come.