For the Catholic world, read Ireland

As the Washington Post observes, the world will be watching to see if the Pope in his letter to the Irish church tears away the veil of secrecy over the full extent of clerical cover-up and admits some blame of his own. Honesty demands that Joseph Ratzinger himself, the man who for decades has been principally responsible for the worldwide cover-up, at last pronounce his own mea culpa,” says Hans Kung, the world’s most famous Catholic theologian, harrassed by JP2 for his liberal thoughts. It seems to me the Pope is between a rock and a hard place of his own making. Does the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. the old Holy Office he headed, hold all the details of the thousands of cases? If so, will he promise full disclosure? If he does, he exposes his own cover-up; if he doesn’t, he continues it. If neither as is likely, the pressure for full disclosure will be mightily boosted by anti-climax and his very authority put seriously at risk. The BBC’s Rome correspondent David Willey, no callow secularist and the veteran of six papacies “has never seen a graver crisis affecting the very credibility of the leadership of the world’s longest surviving international organisation, the Roman Catholic Church.” Willey believes the Irish letter was held up because of the emergence of the Munich case which points straight to Joseph Ratzinger himself. It’s the old Watergate question: what did he know and when did he know it?. . David Willey “From Our Own Correspondent”

The other day a senior Vatican official, Monsignor Charles Scicluna – an amiable priest from Malta who holds the title of Promoter of Justice – actually gave a lengthy official interview about how headquarters in Rome have been reacting to the huge growth in the number of cases of clerical abuse reported to the Pope during the past decade alone. He also gave numbers: during the past decade the Holy Office received details of 3,000 Catholic priests reported by their Bishops to Rome for sexual misconduct or, even worse, crimes.
Sixty per cent of these cases involved homosexual acts, 30% related to heterosexual behaviour and only 10% – or 300 priests – were, he said, “actual cases of paedophilia.” This was, of course, too many, Monsignor Scicluna admitted, but he added: “The phenomenon is not as widespread as has been believed.”

So how many cases and how many to come? 3000 reported to Rome says the reverend Promoter, “7000 in the US, 700 new cases” says the (unsourced ) Guardian report which quotes another veteran reporter and prominent lay Catholic Clifford Longley with an even more expansive verdict than Willey’s.

“It is such a big story because everything about it is extreme,” says the religious affairs author and journalist Clifford Longley. “It is the worst crisis for the Vatican since the middle ages.”Longley says the church survived nazism, fascism and communism and will outlast the EU, the UN, the US. “Bad though this crisis is, it has survived much worse. At the start of the 16th century the Vatican was little better than a shit-hole.”

There

is a sharp distinction between his attitude while a cardinal and his activities as pope that could yet leave an indelible stain on the reign of Benedict XVI. In 2005 he was elected days after declaring that the time had come to sweep “the filth” from his church. By then he had read – and was disgusted by – files on more than 3,000 clerical abuse cases that were channelled to his department by a decree issued four years earlier by John Paul II.
Most of the cases dealt with by the Vatican department in recent years resulted in the accused being removed, if not defrocked. The problem for Benedict is that, as in many other theological respects, he changed his mind. The US Vatican-watcher John Allen this week published in National Catholic Reporter an extract from the transcript of a conference in Spain that showed that, as late as November 2002, Ratzinger dismissed the American abuse scandals as the result of a “planned campaign” in the media.

I can find only one voice in the press joining the valiant band of Slugger commenters defending the Church’s behaviour, Damian Thomson in the Daily Telegraph.

Many Catholics – and I am one of them – believe that the Pope has been stitched up over this Munich case.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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