Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Times' allegations

You can understand the Argus here in Brighton not checking facts, being sensationalist etc etc, their staff are paid peanuts and are generally at the beginning -or end- of their of their career, there aren't very many of them, it is a local paper and, well, I feel for them.

The Times on the other hand, one might expect to be a little better, last week I am told they reported on a Brighton Catholic priest, urging people on his blog to be compassionate, despite downloading their copy from the net or a news agency, they still got his name wrong. Have you heard of a Fr Michael Blake?

In a story by Gregory Owen headlined "Pope knew priest was paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry", The Times suggests the Pope was complicit in the cover-up of an abusing priest, whilst Archbishop of Munich.

This story just doesn't ring true, Joseph Ratzinger's greatest fault is that he appoints people to a position and lets them get on with things and focuses his energies on precise projects. His time as Archbishop of Munich was not the most glorious part of his career, he is a man of ideas and concepts, not a micro-managing administer. Certainly he was a loving pastor but in a diocese with over a thousand clergy plus a vast lay staff, it seems absurd to expect him to have even known of this abusive priest. In fact that was a criticism of his time in Munich that his relations with clergy were cerebral and rather formal, and their pastoral supervision was left to vicars general, but that happens in a large diocese.

The past, even the recent past, is a different country, Owen's allegation stem from 1986. The priest in question was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence and fined DM 4,000 (£1,800 today); apparently there have been no formal charges against him since. The lightness of the sentence and fine are indicative of the different attitudes that were prevalent at the time, not just in the Church but in society generally. It is worth reminding ourselves that the first English language academic study of the phenomena of sexual abuse of children was published less than a decade before. I can't imagine a German study pre-existing it.

Those were the days in which parents thought it best not to talk about such problems, that children forgot unpleasant things that happened to them, that carrying on and keeping up appearances was everything. Rape of women, abuse of children always carried with a suspicion that the victim was somehow not so innocent, and the victim bore some responsibility. Respectable women didn't report rape in those days, parents tended to be satisfied that abusers were moved on and would happily collaborate in official silence to protect their child from public exposure as a victim. It is difficult for us to understand such taboos today. I do not think it is surprising the Pope’s brother arrived at the Regensburg Choir after an abusive headmaster had been ousted and knew nothing.

Child abuse by priests until the last ten years victims seems to have been dealt with more in terms of a sin against celibacy, a problem centred on the priest's soul rather than on its effects on the child. It wasn't seen as a specific problem, it essentially revealed a weakness of character, a lack of formation or commitment to his vocation. That might necessitate his removal as far as possible from the occasion of sin but little else. So the normal way of dealing with it in the past was a spell in a monastery, or with an order that dealt with priests with problems, some real sign of repentance, possibly followed by being sent off to do a specialist chaplaincy, looking after nuns, or prison work or a spell as a Naval Chaplain seemed to be popular, or just being sent abroad. In our naivety we thought it could be dealt with by prayer and spiritual direction.

The Church as well as society tended not to talk, or maybe even think, about these things, not only because it was shameful but because there was a sense of protecting both the perpetrator’s and individual's character from detraction.

The Church especially felt these things were best dealt with in the confessional, even if they were semi-public, there was still a sense that sin, especially sexual sin, really belonged in the internal forum. When most Catholics went to Confession more frequently I suspect hearing about sexual abuse in the Confessional was not quite as rare as it is today.

In England when allegations of child abuse first came to the fore in the Church in the late 1990s, we simply didn't know what to do, we just didn’t understand the gravity of them, as we do now. In larger diocese where the bishop did directly appoint or concern himself much with his clergy, especially the junior clergy, the problems were for the most part dealt with by an appointee rather than the bishop himself. If there was cover up it was part of the mores of the time.

Judging the present by the past is rather easy but being wise after the event, shows a lack of understanding.


Michael Petek said...

The British press won't tell you what I read in German on the Munich-Freising Archiocese website.

The priest in question was not even from that Archdiocese. He was from Essen, and was received in Munich-Freising to undergo therapy against a background of suspicion of sexual abuse of boys.

The then Archbishop Ratzinger allowed him into his Archdiocese in 1980 and ordered him to reside at a particular parish house. However, in deviation from this order the Vicar-General placed him in a parish in Munich and lifted all restrictions on his exercise of ministry.

No complaints or accusations were made against the priest during this period from 1 February 1980 to 31 August 1982.

Archbishop Ratzinger was translated from the Archdiocese on 15 February 1982.

The priest was an assistant priest at Grafing from September 1982 to the beginning of 1985. After the suspicions of his sexual misconduct were made known he was put under police investigation and relieved of duties on 29 January 1985.

In June 1986 he was convicted at Ebersberg of secual abuse of minors and sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment suspended for five years.

The Vicar-General of Munich-Freising has taken full responsibility for his decision and its effects.

On the side of the angels said...

was just about to say the same thing Fr...

Phil Lawler just issued this:


After learning more about this case, I realize that the analysis above is not quite accurate, and the effort to implicate the Pope is even more far-fetched than I had received. The accused was not a priest of the Munich archdiocese, but a priest from the Diocese of Essen, who had been sent to a facility in Munich for counseling. So the then-Cardinal Ratzinger was not responsible for his treatment; his only connection with the case was his decision to let the priest stay in a rectory in the Munich archdiocese while he was undergoing treatment there. There is no evidence that the Pope was aware the accused priest was an accused pedophile; he was evidently informed only that the priest had been guilty of sexual improprieties, and probably concluded that he was engaged in homosexual activities with young men.

Anonymous said...


I agree with what you have said. Thank you for stating the whole matter with great clarity.

Fr. A.

georgem said...

The enemies of the Pope and, by association, the Catholic Church, grow ever more strident. One has to ask “Why this Pope”. Is it because he, of all the popes of living memory, is the most publicly unequivocal regarding faith and morals? Even more disturbing is the suspicion that there are more than a few, even in The Vatican itself , who would wish to do him down. The enemy within.
I dare say the story will feature strongly in the R4 Sunday programme and will faithfully repeat The Times’ take on it. It would be comforting to think that sometime, somewhere, someone in the hierarchy of E&W might put his head above the parapet in Benedict’s defence. The silence of bishops in this and other matters gives all the wrong signals to the faithful and could be mistaken by his traducers as tacit approval of their attacks.
Let’s at least hope that all parishes include prayers for the Pope at Mass today and routinely at all Sunday Masses.

George said...

First thing they teach them in Journalism Class - 'Never let the Truth get in the way of a good story'.

Independent said...

Now you know what the Jews feel like when faced with the relentless anti-semitic propaganda from the trendy media. No attempt is made to provide context or check the facts. What Catholics and other Christians require is the equivalent of the site "Honest Reporting" to alert the faithful to slurs, inaccuracies, and downright slanders, and to advise them as to how to complain.