Church in the World
Church battles with ‘tsunami’ of abuse allegationsRobert Mickens and Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
- 20 March 2010
DIVISIONS opened up in the Church this week in the wake of the increasing number of child-abuse revelations that have emerged across Europe since late January. Some Vatican officials chose to defend the way the Holy See has dealt with the crisis, while other church leaders suggested that the revelations were not only deeply alarming, but suggested that the Church needed to engage in a much deeper process of self-examination.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, spoke of a “tsunami of revelations” of abuse cases, while in England, Kieran Conry, the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, said that the Church was “holed beneath the waterline” by the allegations. When the Church failed to live up to its own rigid standards, he said, “it deserves to be attacked and criticised”.
“It is not our grief that matters. Yes, it hurts to find ourselves in the pillory once again. But what is that grief compared to that of victims?” Cardinal Schönborn told a diocesan assembly on Thursday last week.
However, on Tuesday this week theVatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, insisted that the Church is still greatly trusted by the faithful. “The fact is that some people are trying to undermine this trust, but on its side the Church has special help from on high,” he said on the sidelines of a meeting with business leaders in Rome.
Also from within the Vatican Mgr Charles Scicluna, the Promoter of Justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), gave an interview to the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire in which he revealed numbers and types of abuse cases that had come before the CDF since 2001. There had been 3,000 cases of improper sexual conduct reported to Rome since then, he said, of which 300 involved “true” paedophilia. Numbers of cases were now “much reduced”, he insisted.
It also emerged that the Holy See’s observer at UN offices in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, addressing an ordinary session of the Human Rights Council earlier this month, invited the council to “share some best practices that can help children to recognise and report the improper behaviour of educators and caregivers”.
In Ireland, where the Church is reeling from the publication of two recent reports on abuse, Cardinal Seán Brady said that he would resign if Pope Benedict requested it. His statement followed revelations that he had been part of a team in Kilmore Diocese investigating claims by two teenage boys that they had been sexually abused by jailed Norbertine priest, Fr Brendan Smyth, in 1975.
In Germany, where revelations have been emerging since late January, and Austria, the number of alleged victims approached 400, with at least 12 religious orders involved and seven high-ranking churchmen resigning.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung also revealed that in 1980, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the present Pope, was Archbishop of Munich, he gave permission for a priest suspected of child abuse in the north German Diocese of Essen to be housed in his Archdiocese of Munich for therapy. His then vicar general, Fr Gerhard Gruber, 81, says he immediately moved the priest to a parish without informing Archbishop Ratzinger “as, except for one hour’s therapy, we didn’t want him to have nothing to do all day”. Fr Gruber has accepted full responsibility for moving the priest to a parish. After Archbishop Ratzinger left Munich in 1982, the abuse reoccurred and it has now come to light that even after being convicted of child sex abuse by a German court, the priest, Fr Peter Hullinger, continued working with children in the Church for more than 30 years. He has now been suspended.
The Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, sprang to the Pope’s defence after the story was published. “It is evident that over recent days some people have sought – with considerable persistence, in Regensburg and Munich – elements that could personally involve the Holy Father in questions of abuse,” he said in comments published last Saturday in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. “To any objective observer, it is clear that these efforts have failed.”
The Vatican paper published excerpts from several addresses given at an international theological conference held in Rome from 11 to 12 March, including a defence of celibacy by the German psychiatrist Manfred Lutz.
The president of the German episcopal conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, briefed Pope Benedict on the latest developments in his country on 11 March during a 45-minute one-to-one meeting at the Vatican. He told reporters afterwards that the Pope had praised and supported the German bishops’ efforts to bring everything to light, and emphasised that celibacy had nothing to do with sexual abuse. He also announced that the CDF was currently working to update its current procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of minors, without giving details.
Meanwhile the abuse crisis has reached Switzerland, where 60 suspected cases committed over the past 15 years have come to light. The Abbot of the tenth-century Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln, Martin Werlen, told the Aargauer Zeitung that all 60 cases had been reported to the Swiss bishops’ conference which was investigating.
Addressing a conference last week in Rome on the priesthood Pope Benedict re-affirmed the Vatican’s stance on clerical celibacy, calling it “sacred” and part of the priest’s identity as “belonging to God”.