Behind the denunciations of the pedophile priest scandal

Source: FSSPX News

Nothing, it seems, can stop the international media campaign launched several months ago against the Church and the Pope.  On March 20 Benedict XVI addressed a Letter to Irish Catholics on the crimes of pedophile priests, in which he expressed his shame and sorrow over such actions.  On April 12 the Holy See published on its website a reminder of the legal procedures to follow against these scandalous sexual abuses.  Between these dates the Vatican Press Office, several cardinals and numerous bishops throughout the world tried to clarify the facts, but in vain.  Every day the press serves up new revelations intended to show the guilty silence of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, with regard to these crimes.

Why? Because those who are leading this campaign have not yet reached their goal: to discredit the Church as a whole in order to bring about the abolition of clerical celibacy.

The simplistic reasoning which they want to impose on public opinion in order to achieve the abrogation of consecrated celibacy can be summarized in this way: Catholic priests are pedophiles because they are celibate. Or in more sensational terms: clerical celibacy is a crime, because it is responsible for the criminal actions of the pedophile priests which the Church has tried to hush up. The pope himself is therefore an accomplice because he intends to keep the Catholic clergy in this crime-provoking celibacy.

Obviously, the adversaries of the Church would smile with contempt at this summary.  They would say that they are not concerned about the celibacy of the priests, because they are only interested in the defense of the innocent victims.  They would even denounce the clerical chimera of an anti-Christian conspiracy.... Should anyone believe them?  These are the same revolutionaries who militate “against the ‘castration’ (sic) imposed on clerics in the name of an anachronistic vision straight out of the Ancien Régime (sic) and which allows all sorts of perversities to hide with impunity.” These same folks claim to be firmly committed to “supporting a priest rejected by his hierarchy because he is living with a woman, or a man,” as it was put quite baldly in the February 2009 Manifesto that appeared in Golias, an ultra-progressive magazine whose editor-in-chief, Christian Terras, was the guest on the popular program of France Inter, “Le téléphonne sonne” [“The Phone Rings”], on Easter Monday, April 5, along with Frédéric Lenoir, the director of “Monde des religions” [“The World of Religions”], whose book, Comme Jésus est devenu Dieu [“How Jesus became God”] has just been published by Fayard.

For this dossier on the scandal of pedophile priests, we consider it necessary to recall the seriousness of the events (I) and the clarity of their condemnation by the Church (II); Benedict XVI did not hesitate to denounce the silence of certain prelates in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland. Finally, if one observes the manner in which the press campaign on this matter is being orchestrated, it becomes clear that the target is clerical celibacy, through the Church and the Pope (III).

I. The most important cases


The scandal first broke out with revelations of abuse committed by two priests who were teaching at Canisius College in Berlin, which has educated many members of the country’s political and economic elite.  The administration acknowledged that some students in the 1970’s and 1980’s had been victims of sexual abuse by at least two clerics who are now retired.  The scandal then spread to other Jesuit high schools in Germany, more particularly involving a third professor and several other Jesuit institutions in Hanover, Bonn and Sankt Blasien (in Southern Germany).

The case that received the most media attention was the one involving boys who sang in the cathedral choir in Regensburg, which from 1964 to 1994 was directed by the Pope’s brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger.  The story was published in early March by the German weekly magazine, Der Spiegel ;  the most serious accusation concerns his alleged silence about ill-treatment “of a sexual nature” committed by a former director of the boarding school.  The producer and composer Franz Wittenbrink, a resident at the boarding school in Regensburg until 1967, testified in Der Spiegel on the subject of sexual abuse committed against several students:  “Everybody knew about it,” he declared.  Monsignor Georg Ratzinger denies having had any knowledge of such affairs, since the cathedral choir is a separate institution from the boarding school.  He simply admitted, with regret, having disciplined several students by slapping them on the face.


Two reports published in May and in November 2009 have revealed that some of those in charge of the Archdiocese of Dublin covered up numerous instances of sexual abuse committed by some priests against hundreds of children over several decades.  Reportedly there were 14,500 victims…. Four bishops have submitted their resignations; as of now, two have been accepted.  Since the 1960’s, several hundred children, affiliated with different dioceses of the Dublin area, have been violated in this way by their parish priests.  These acts were extremely serious, yet the archdiocesan authorities allegedly decided to remain silent about them for four decades.  That, in any case, is what was disclosed by the two reports of the Irish government published in 2009.  The five volumes of these reports, which took nine years to compile, depict the orphanages and the specialized Irish schools as places where the residents were “prey to fear, negligence and widespread sexual aggression”.  Several representatives of the State are likewise accused of having encouraged the cover-up of these acts.  The Irish episcopate is not spared either, since the commission of inquiry mentions an “obsessive” concern about secrecy and a deliberate policy of silence, while noting that the situation improved after 1996.

Shortly after the publication of the second report, in November of 2009, Benedict XVI summoned the whole body of Irish bishops to Rome.  The communiqué of the Holy See is unusually direct:  “The sexual abuse of children and of young people is not only an atrocious crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in His image.”  The pope has asked the bishops to confront “the present crisis” with “honesty and courage”, the objective being to “restore the spiritual and moral credibility of the Church”.

United States

The scandal exploded in 2002 at Boston, in the State of Massachusetts, where it was learned that Cardinal Bernard Law had covered up several hundred serious acts over many years.  The prelate knew that some members of the American clergy were responsible for sexual abuses.  Seeking to hush up the affairs, one after the other, he preferred to change the parish assignments of the clergy concerned rather than to report them to the civil authorities or to suspend their faculties and refer the matter to Rome.

When his inaction became public knowledge, Cardinal Law resigned and the national repercussions of the story encouraged the formation of victims’ groups.  This marked the beginning of a long and painful sequence of revelations.  Two years later, the American Catholic hierarchy published a study carried out by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.  The conclusions were overwhelming:  4,400 priests were accused of having attacked 11,000 children in the United States: that averages out to 4% of the total of 110,000 priests who ministered between 1950 and 2002.  Even if most of the acts went back to the 1970’s (“only” a dozen cases have been recorded since 2000), one cannot rule out the possibility that some other affairs have since been hushed up.

All told, it is estimated that the proceedings for sexual abuse have cost the American Catholic Church some 2.7 billion dollars.  Five dioceses (San Diego, California; Davenport, Iowa; Portland, Oregon; Spokane, Washington; and Tucson, Arizona) have filed for bankruptcy protection under the law.

Faced with the breadth of the scandal, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops drew up a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which provides for the suspension of a priest from his duties at the first [credible] accusation lodged against him, systematic reporting to the civil authorities, and programs of human formation for seminarians.


The current superior of prestigious St. Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg admits to having abused “one time” an Austrian youth who is now fifty-three years old.  The latter declares that he was sexually abused for six years by two other religious at that Benedictine abbey.  These two religious, one of whom is now deceased, had already been arrested and sentenced in 2005 for sexually abusing a minor in Morocco.

Another scandal concerns a case of sexual abuse against a minor in the 1980’s by a religious in a Catholic boarding school in Bregenz, in the Vorarlberg region (Western Austria).

Vatican sources mention seventeen verified cases that are presently being dealt with by Church authorities in Austria.  Without in any way minimizing these extremely serious actions, Rome notes that Austria is presently facing “510 other cases” of a similar nature during the same time period, but in “other settings”, which is to say, not involving the Catholic clergy (i.e. 96.7% of the total number of cases).

In 1995 the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, resigned after being accused of sexual harassment.


In 2006, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado had to cease performing all of his duties because of accusations of pedophilic acts. Until his death in 2008 at the age of 88, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, which claims to have more than 700 priests and 3,000 seminarians throughout the world, continually declared his innocence. Yet eight former seminarians maintain that they were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of this priest, around forty years ago, when they were between the ages of ten and sixteen.

The investigation carried out directly in April 2005 by Msgr. Charles Scicluna, Promoter of Justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, allowed for the hearing of up to 32 plaintiffs…This matter caused great turmoil in the Vatican, in Latin America, and in North America, since the evangelization work of the Legionaries of Christ had been encouraged repeatedly and enthusiastically by Pope John Paul II. Without disavowing the support of his predecessor for the Legionaries, Benedict XVI nonetheless reacted firmly in 2006 by asking Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado—aged 85 at the time of these revelations—to “resign from all public ministry” and “live a secluded life in prayer and penitence.”

In the year following his death, the American media revealed that Fr. Maciel secretly had a daughter, then the existence of two more children. Those currently in charge of the religious congregation officially asked for forgiveness on March 26, 2010, acknowledging that they needed “time” to accept the accusations against their founder. They declared that Father Maciel can no longer be considered “a model of the Christian or priestly life.”

II. The Church’s condemnation

We call pedophile an individual who engages in sexual activity in a violent or non-violent fashion, with children under 15 years of age. In its March 10th, 2010 issue, the French daily newspaper La Croix provided statistics published by the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) in a report dated 2008. In particular, we read that 50.8% of the abusers are relatives (father, uncle, grandfather), 34% are neighbours or friends of the family, and 3.4% are in a position of authority (priests, teachers, paediatricians…). While in no way excusing the scandalous behavior of certain priests and the culpable silence of their superiors, these figures offer the benefit of reminding the enemies of the Church that pedophilia is above all a problem within the family circle. It is surely in view of such facts that the spokesman for the Vatican, Father Federico Lombardi, was prompted to declare, “all objective and well-informed people know that the question is much broader, and concentrating accusations against the Church alone gives a false perspective.”

In 2002, when the scandal had just broken out in the United States, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, recalled that “the Church has always defended public morals and the common good and has taken action in defense of holiness of life among priests by sanctioning these crimes with canonical penalties.” He reminded his readers that, already in the Code of Canon Law of 1917, canon 2359 § 2 stipulates that “Si delictum admiserint contra sextum decalogi praeceptum cum minoribus infra aetatem sexdecim annorum… suspendantur, infames declarentur(?), quolibet officio, beneficio, dignitate, munere, qui quod habeant, priventur, et in casibus gravioribus deponantur”; “those clerics who commit an offence against the sixth Commandment of the Decalogue with minors below sixteen years of age are to be suspended, declared infamous, and deprived of any office, benefit, dignity, or function they may have, and in graver cases, deposed.”

The procedure to be followed in the case of a proven act of pedophilia was defined in the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela promulgated by Pope John Paul II on April 30th, 2001 and clarified by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his letter De delictis gravioribus of March 18th, 2001. The authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was then reinforced to allow it to carry on internal investigations until their completion. The Motu Proprio indicates that sexual abuse against minors is unacceptable, and such acts are considered delicta graviora (“particularly grave offences”) and are punishable by the most severe canonical sanctions. This point was particularly referred to by Bishop Charles J. Scicluna in an interview published on March 13th, 2010 in L’Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Episcopal Conference (see DICI, issue number 212). 

On April 12th, the Vatican made a point to publish on its website the guidelines for the procedure to be followed in the case of sexual abuse on the part of ecclesiastics. We read that “the local diocese investigates every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric. If the allegation has a semblance of truth the case is referred to the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).” The document notes that “civil law concerning reporting of crimes (sexual abuse) to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.” It indicates that during the preliminary inquiries, “the bishop may impose precautionary measures to safeguard the community, including the victims.” The note adds that “In very grave cases where a civil criminal trial has found the cleric guilty of sexual abuse of minors”, the Congregation for the Faith may choose to transfer the case directly to the Holy Father with the request that the Pope issue a decree reducing the guilty priest to the state of a layman. It also emphasized that there is no canonical remedy against such a papal decree.

III. Behind the Person of the Pope, It Is consacrated Celibacy That Is Attacked

As the weeks go on, an increasing number of scandals are being revealed in the international press.  But it is always aimed at one and the same person:  Benedict XVI.  Even if the Pope is never the one directly accused, he is nonetheless the target of criticisms fired from all sides.  What exactly do they reproach in him?  The same thing for which Pius XII was reproached: his guilty silence, seeking to protect the institution at the expense of the victims.

A first attempt to attack Benedict XVI used his eldest brother, Georg Ratzinger, Choirmaster of the children's choir of Regensburg from 1964 to 1993, who, without being directly suspect, is believed by the media to have kept silence on the affair. (see above)

Next, Benedict XVI was accused by the German Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, of having “impeded investigations of sexual abuses”.  She referred to the letter to bishops that followed the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (see above).  The author of this letter, which was understood as an admonition advising “silence”, was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself, then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (read Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna's response in DICI n°212).

The Pope was then blamed for having sheltered a priest suspected of pedophilia, in 1980, while he was the head of the archdiocese of Munich.  This information, revealed on March 13, 2010, by the Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, drew an immediate reaction from the archbishopric, which declared very clearly that “Msgr. Ratzinger” had been consulted only for the “reception of the suspect priest for therapy treatment” at Munich.  The Vicar General at the time, Msgr. Gerhard Gruber, takes “full responsibility” for having given this priest a post in the parish, recognizing that it was a “serious mistake” since the same priest would in 1986 be convicted of sexual abuse of minors.

Before Easter, the New York Times revealed that the future Pope Benedict XVI and other authorities at the Vatican had supposedly covered up the sexual abuses of an American priest in Wisconsin during the years 1950 to 1974.  This religious is suspected of having sexually assaulted about 200 children in a school for deaf children.  The documents from a lawsuit brought against him for these depravities disclose a correspondence addressed directly by the priest, Lawrence C. Murphy, to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1996.  The New York newspaper claims that a secret trial of Fr. Murphy in an ecclesiastical court was called off after he wrote to the future Pope, begging him to stop the procedure.  Lawrence Murphy passed away two years later in 1998, still a priest.  In his answer to the New York Times, the Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, clarifies that the matter was referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “for the first time” only “in the late 90's, almost two decades after the abuses had been revealed” to diocesan authorities and to the police.  Fr. Lombardi also recalls that the American civil authorities had done an investigation on Fr. Murphy in the 70's, after the accusations of his victims, but that the investigations had been abandoned.

After Easter, on April 9, the American press agency Associated Press published a letter dated 1985 and signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.  This letter is an extract from a correspondence lasting several years between the diocese of Oakland, CA, and the Vatican concerning the eventual defrocking of a priest, Stephen Kiesle, guilty of  having taken “sexual liberties” with “six adolescents, ages 11 to 13”, in the late 70's.  In his answer, written in Latin, Cardinal Ratzinger recognizes the “gravity” of the situation, but he is hesitant to make an immediate decision.  He worries about the effects such a decision could have on “the good of the universal Church”.  According to the German prelate, the affair should be treated with “a very particular attention that demands much time”.  Fr. Kiesle would finally be defrocked in 1987.

In France, the headlines attacking the Pope are eloquent:  “The Vatican's Sex Scandals” (Journal du Dimanche, March 5), “The Vatican Would Have Covered up Sexual Abuses (...)” (20 Minutes, March 25, 2010), “Benedict XVI Accused of Having Covered up a New Pedophile Scandal” (Le Monde, March 25), “Pedophilia: the Scandals of Which Benedict XVI Could Not Possibly Have Been Unaware” (20 Minutes, March 26), “Pedophilia: Benedict XVI Once Again Accused” (Le Figaro, April 10)...  In the face of these concentrated attacks, the French bishops have publicly intervened in defense of Benedict XVI's actions.  Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, in the April 5th edition of La Croix, voiced his “astonishment” at the accusations made against the Pope: “I have been working with him since 2002 in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  He has always been extremely strict on this point”, maintains the Cardinal.  “A campaign of slander and calumny is doing its best to besmirch the Pope”, is the judgment of Cardinal André Vingt-Trois (Le Parisien, April 5).  “In reality,” he continues, “it is Cardinal Ratzinger, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who encouraged bishops to act against pedophilia, asking that they systematically refer all cases to Rome.”

According to the March 25 edition of Osservatore Romano, “the prevalent tendency in the media”, the tendency to “neglect the facts” and to “force interpretations”, has a double objective: to create the impression that the Catholic Church is “the only one responsible for sexual abuses, an image that has nothing to do with reality”, and to condemn the “ignoble intention of succeeding, cost what it may, in dealing a blow to Benedict XVI and his close collaborators.”

For Msgr. Gianfranco Girotti, Cardinal Ratzinger's former Undersecretary in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the future Pope's attitude has always been “inflexible in the face of sin (…).  It is absurd to speak of cover-ups (…).  That has never been the Congregation's policy, and least of all Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's.” (, uploaded March 29).

In an article published by the British newspaper The Times and again by Osservatore Romano on March 28, the president of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, Msgr. Vincent Nichols, upholds the quality of the work accomplished by Cardinal Ratzinger while he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, remarking especially that no other organisation in his country has yet done as much as the Church to fight against pedophilia.

As for the present Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, he has rebuked the New York Times, that has been trying for a couple weeks now, to harm the Holy Father's reputation.  According to this prelate, as quoted by the Associated Press on April 2, the American newspaper is trying “to use newly unearthed cases to accuse the Pope of indulgence and inaction”, even though, as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn recalls on the Austrian public radio ORF, “Benedict XVI has always clearly drawn the line against cover-ups”.  The archbishop of Vienna adds that he has known the Pope “for 37 years” and that he has “always been for doing things in the open, which did not always please the Vatican”.

Swiss Cardinal Georges Cottier, in an interview published in the Catholic weekly French paper Famille chrétienne on April 3, 2010, denounces the “calomnies”, the “perfidious” attacks against the Pope.  He especially accuses the dissenting progressist  Hans Küng, who has made “perfectly odious personal attacks.”  More generally, the prelate observes “much recklessness and thoughtlessness” in a battle where “stupidity” dominates, obscuring intelligences.  According to him, many persons are “nothing but puppets manipulated by the forces of evil” unleashed upon the Church.

“The inadequacy of some of the Church's sons are an occasion to destroy the teachings of the Church”

Msgr. Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, stated on the Vatican Radio on April 6 that “he had never seen, in the past, a series of attacks so violent and of such proportions”, due to “the dominant ideologies that wish to impose a culture of death.”  The American intellectual George Weigel reacted in much the same way on the same radio station, remarking that “the Pope is attacked because he affirms the existence of the truth”, while the “powerful forces of the West” deny it.  In his eyes, some see “in the inadequacies of some of the Church's sons the opportunity to destroy the Church's teachings”, and of excluding her from the public debate on crucial themes.  In this attack, George Weigel also sees the implications of Catholic sectors that pursue a revolution “never yet realised: the diminution of the authority of the bishops, the ordination of women, the end of celibacy.”

Indeed, the ecclesiastical celibacy is considered by those who nourish this media campaign as responsible for the crimes of pedophile priests.  That is what brings the former Archbishop of Milan, progressist Carlo Maria Martini, to declare in the March 28 edition of the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, that “new ways must be found” in order to avoid the cases of pedophilia, and among  these, “ the re-examination of the obligation of celibacy.”  To which claim Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, in an interview that he granted to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, published March 29, responds that “the celibacy has certainly nothing to do with the clergy's sexual abuses of minors”, considering it “absolutely inappropriate to bring up the question (editor's note: of priestly celibacy) all over again in the present climate, envenomed by polemics and scandals”.  The president of the Swiss Bishops' Conference, Msgr. Norbert Brunner recalled, at a press conference given March 31, that “ only 5% [of all acts of pedophilia] are committed by persons living as celibates”.

In the March 6 edition of La France catholique, Gérard Leclerc underlines that “prisons are full of sexual delinquents who are married and fathers of families, and besides, the greater part of pedophile crimes are incestuous”, as is demonstrated by the numbers we quoted above, published in Ireland by the RCNI.  Jean-Pierre Denis, in March 18, 2010 edition of the weekly paper La Vie, asks: “Last year, 40% of murders were committed within families.  Should we abolish the family?  110 women were killed by their partners.  Should we forbid heterosexual couples?”  Cardinal André Vingt-Trois declared, in the April 4 edition of Le Parisien, that there is “no link to make between pedophilia and celibacy, any more than there is between pedophilia and conjugal life.  However, it is in the conjugal life that there is the most pedophilia: 80% of these crimes are committed in the family environment. It is therefore not a question of celibacy.”

Commentary:  Will this crisis open the eyes of those who believe that being “openminded towards the world” will shelter the Church from the criticisms of modern society?  The Italian philosopher Romano Amerio, in his monumental work Iota Unum (NEL, 1987), describes the post-conciliar period as a time where “the Church seems to fear that she is rejected, which in fact she is by a great fraction of the human race.  So she seeks to let fade the meritorious particularities that are her own in order to emphasize the traits that she has in common with the world”.  But the present crisis proves that the modern world is not satisfied with the Church's “openmindedness” towards it.  Modernism demands a Church not only in the world, but also of the world, the world that, according to St. John in his first Epistle, is characterised by the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.  St. Augustine in his Confessions and Bossuet in his Treaty on Concupiscence offer on this subject commentaries which, though pre-conciliar, or nonetheless pertinent.  Closer to our times, we can have recourse to two books of  René Rémond, a conciliar candidly surprised by the “hard-core hostility” of modern society towards the Catholic Church: Le christianisme en accusation (DDB, 2000) and Le nouvel anti-christianisme (DDB, 2005).  Even more lucid and more realist, L'enquête sur la christianophobie by Michel DeJaeghere (Renaissance catholique, 2005) most pertinently quotes Charles Péguy: “Jesus, prince of the spiritual world, has founded a Church that will never cease to be attacked in the spiritual and in the temporal worlds, and that will never cease to fight.”

(Sources: apic/Imedia/AP/AFP/Le Monde/La Croix/ Le Figaro/ Le Parisien/ La Vie/ Zenit/VIS – DICI n°213 April 17, 2010)