Vatican Slams Media as ’Anti-Pope’ in Pedophile Priest Coverage

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday March 16, 2010

The Vatican has lashed out at the media for coverage of the revelation that Pope Benedict XVI, while still a Cardinal in Germany, had a role in the case of a known pedophile priest who continued serving the church.

In 1980, reports a March 13 article at U.K. newspaper The Times, a priest (referred to by the initial H), was sent to Munich after being accused of assaulting an 11-year-old boy in Essen. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger gave the okay for the priest to stay in a rectory while he received therapy. The priest committed subsequent acts of child molestation, was convicted of sexual assault in 1986.

The priest was finally suspended today (Tuesday, March 16) - several days after the future pope's involvement was made known. AP reported that Prelate Josef Obermaier, who was responsible for assigning the pastor to his current position, also resigned. The resignations were announced by the Munich archdiocese.

The purported shifting of the German cleric from town to town mirrors the way American pedophile priests were moved from community to community by their superiors in the church hierarchy. Msgr. Gerhard Gruber took the blame for the priest's subsequent return to pastoral work, and told the media that Cardinal Ratzinger "could not deal with everything," given that there were more than one thousand priests in the diocese overseen by the Pope-to-be.

"The repeated employment of H in pastoral duties was a serious mistake," Gruber added. "I deeply regret that this decision led to offences against youths. I apologize to all those who were harmed."

The article said that the American organization Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests issued a statement. It "boggles the mind to hear a German Catholic official claim that a credibly accused pedophile priest was reassigned to parish work without the knowledge of his boss, then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger," the statement read.

The Survivors Network also reported that since the initial revelations of clerical sexual abuse against children in Germany broke in January, 170 cases of sexual abuse have been alleged. The article also reported that the Pope had reacted with "deep dismay" to the news reports, and charged Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who heads up the German branch of the church, with taking "decisive and courageous steps" to resolve the crisis.

Anti-gay religious site LifeSiteNews, which frequently posts gay-themed articles, posted a March 15 item in which the site noted that the Pope had had no explicit knowledge of the crime the priest had been accused of. Further, the site noted that the Pope's role in the case did not extend to returning the priest to duty, but was limited to approving his stay in a rectory during the time he was receiving treatment.

Calling media accounts "slurs" against the Pope, the site went on to say that Benedict had reaffirmed the church's position on priestly celibacy and refuted speculation that it has anything to do with priests abusing children.

The site also repeated assertions that pedophile priests are not pedophiles per se, but "ephebophiles," being drawn to commit sexual acts against adolescents, as opposed to pre-pubescent children. The article also said that the bulk of the assaults took place during the decades when the church allowed gays to be ordained as clergy.

Research indicates that the vast majority of pedophiles--more than 90%--identify as heterosexual.

A March 13 New York Times article also reported that Vatican officials had spoken out against the media coverage, with spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi declaring during a radio address that it was "evident that in recent days there are those who have tried, with a certain aggressive tenacity, in Regensburg and in Munich, to find elements to involve the Holy Father personally in issues of abuse. It is clear that those efforts have failed."

Another Vatican official, Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, who is affiliated with the doctrinal division of the Vatican, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, admitted that the Vatican had heard of 3,000 cases of abuse--and that those cases, being only the ones that were passed along to the Vatican, are only a fraction of a larger total. Scicluna said that the church had tried around one-fifth of the 300 priests who were accused.

But the complainant in the German case of H, Wilfried F., who was allegedly forced by H to perform oral sex on the priest, had told the media that the church had routinely sought to handle such cases itself, without alerting secular authorities. Wilfried F. also said that he had received assurances that H would not be allowed access to children - only to assault others. Wilfried F. pointed to the way in which H was reassigned from locale to locale.

"You see how they just kept moving him around," he told the media. "He could keep doing it like before."

The New York Times article also addressed a perception that instructions issued in 2001 by Ratzinger to the church's bishops to send his office word of accused priests were intended to shroud pedophilia abuses in secrecy.

Scicluna said that the church's discretion had "served to protect the good name of all the people involved, first and foremost, the victims themselves, then the accused priests who have the right, as everyone does, to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty," and added that Ratzinger's instructions had "never been understood as a ban on denouncing the crimes to the civil authorities."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.