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Priestly Sins


COMMENTARY: Every day we read new revelations about cover-ups of pedophile priests by the highest echelon of the Vatican -- specifically by Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. As The Advocate's readers may recall, Pope Benedict is the same person who forbids condoms in the age of HIV, bars women from the priesthood, and has written three ugly documents condemning homosexuality as "intrinsically evil." In his view, gays are "guilty of a moral evil" and "disordered."

For 25 years Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which addresses all priestly pedophilia charges. How did he do? Let's take a look at four examples from Ratzinger's track record while he was in charge:

In Ukiah, Calif., Sister Jane Kelly learned in the 1990s about a young Central American priest in her diocese who she believed was molesting Hispanic youths. For two years she tried to get church officials to respond. When all Kelly got in return was silence, she went to the press with the information. It turns out the priest, the Reverend Jorge Hume Salas, was rushed into ordination with little or no training by Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann, who was having an affair with him. Kelly wrote Cardinal Ratzinger on three occasions about the bishop's role and got a response only when she told him she was writing a book. Ratzinger told her that he knew nothing about the bishop, so she should take the matter up with the bishops' conference. Ziemann resigned after admitting to the sexual relationship, and Kelly was summarily expelled from her order after going through a harrowing ordeal in a mental hospital (assigned there by her superiors). When she was thrown out, Kelly was 75 years old and had spent 58 years as a Catholic sister, most of the time running a soup kitchen for the homeless.

Meanwhile, in the diocese of Milwaukee, the Reverend Lawrence C. Murphy, who was head of a school for the deaf, was molesting as many as 200 deaf boys. In 1996, Archbishop Rembert Weakland wrote Ratzinger about the horrible situation. He never received a reply. Six months later, Weakland wrote Ratzinger's deputy, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, who has since been elevated to become a cardinal and is the pope's current secretary of state. In 1997, Bertone advised Weakland to discipline Murphy following the rules of a 1962 Vatican document that emphasizes secrecy. Weakland later went to the Vatican to stress how serious these allegations were and how profoundly affected the deaf community was by the charges, but he was ignored.

In Mexico, Father Marcial Maciel was a priest adept at fraternizing with the wealthy, right-wing aristocrats of Latin America and was an ace at fund-raising. Maciel founded several seminaries of his own and a movement called Legionaries of Christ, which emphasized obedience to the pope, and created a cult of adoration around himself, "Nuestro Padre." (The nickname among nonadmirers of Maciel's order was "millionaires for Christ.") All the while, Maciel was molesting his seminarians. At least nine of them, having become adults, wrote letters to Ratzinger's office in 1976, 1978, and 1989. No response.

Ratzinger brought on board a canon lawyer to demand "professional secrecy" for any accused clergy. (This canon lawyer was later named archbishop of Genoa, Italy, and then became a cardinal). Maciel was a favorite of Pope John Paul II, who often invited the priest on the plane with him when he traveled. Ratzinger questioned whether it was "prudent" to prosecute a priest who had done so much good for the church. In 2004, Ratzinger's office opened an investigation of Maciel, but shut it down six months later. Maciel has since died. His victims still suffer.

And finally, in Boston, there was Cardinal Bernard Law. The cause celebre in the American priestly pedophile crisis was the revelations that emerged in the Boston archdiocese. Thanks to The Boston Globe, which pursued the facts with tenacity and broke through stonewalling on the part of church authorities, the story blew open beginning in 2002. Predatory priests were being moved from parish to parish, diocese to diocese, under Law's authority. He even transferred one priest who was later found guilty of molesting more than 130 children. Law's punishment? After staying in Boston as cardinal for 2 1/2 more years, he was given a plum assignment to oversee a fourth-century basilica in Rome.

The American Catholic bishops eventually created a commission to investigate pedophile issues. To this day, $2.7 billion of laypeople's hard-earned money has been spent on compensation to victims and on legal fees in the United States. Several dioceses have had to file for bankruptcy. But above all, thousands of victims have had their lives profoundly affected by these horrible doings by priests -- and the cover-ups by bishops, both here and abroad.

What do we learn from just these four instances of Ratzinger at work? A common modus operandi when it comes to clerical pedophilia: denial, delay, silence, mendacity, and promotions for those who obey and keep silent. Again and again he has tried to blame pedophilia on homosexuals, even though 30% of the pedophile priests attacked girls, not boys.

Ratzinger is the same person who silenced or expelled more than 115 Catholic theologians (for the sake of journalistic transparency, I proudly though humbly confess I was one of them) for daring to write about justice, liberation, gay rights, women's rights, indigenous rights, or creation spirituality. His agenda to condemn and expel thinkers has resulted in dumbing down the church: "Yes men" and sycophants occupying most places of decision-making has everything to do with not only the immoral but also the unintelligent way in which the pedophile crisis has been handled.

Apparently Ratzinger was much too busy hunting down so-called heretics and stomping out all signs of life in the church to care about the victims of pedophile priests. Maybe that is why he has acted as he has.

A structural upheaval is sure to follow.

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