Edmonton’s Catholic archbishop held a rare press conference Tuesday to defend Pope Benedict in the wake of the sex abuse and cover-up scandal that has rocked the Vatican this week. Archbishop Richard Smith assured Canadian Catholics that their bishops remained steadfast in their support of the Pope, according to CBC News. “We cannot run or hide from these things, and we have no desire to do so … they need to be forthrightly and transparently addressed,” Smith told reporters.
In Denver, normally outspoken Archbishop Chaput posted only a paragraph on the archdiocese website criticizing the “media frenzy” sparked by the abuse and by the allegations that Pope Benedict worked to protect abusers from secular authorities, including courts of law in at least three countries. Chaput’s office did not return calls for comment Monday or Tuesday.
Last Friday, the New York Times reported that in the early 1980s, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict was known then, was aware of a decision to transfer a German priest suspected of sexual abuse back to his pastoral duties within days of beginning psychiatric treatment.
Another allegation claims that while head of the Vatican office responsible for disciplining priests, Ratzinger halted the church trial of a Milwaukee priest accused of molesting around 200 deaf boys between 1950 and 1975.
The National Catholic Reporter in the United States has since called on Benedict to answer questions about his role “in the mismanagement” of sex abuse cases, not only in the current crisis but during his tenure in the 1980s as archbishop of Munich and then as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal and disciplinary office.
Meantime, AP is reporting that the Vatican has hired attorneys to quash legal claims in the United States that the Pope is liable for criminal abuse perpetrated by priests in Kentucky. The standing for such a case seemed thin as recently as last week but, in light of the paper trail leading directly to the inner sanctum of the Vatican uncovered this week, the case has gained traction. The victims of abuse behind the suit say the Pope or at least the Papal staff knew about the abuse and failed to alert police or the public. Given the Pope’s position as Church disciplinarian when he was Cardinal Ratzinger and his personal interest in bringing pedophile priests to heel– at least according to the insular code of the Church– the Kentucky suit launched in 2004 now makes a new kind of sense to observers all over the world.
The attorney pleading the case, William McMurry, is seeking class-action status in order to bring the suit on behalf of what he says are thousands of victims all across the country.
“This case is the only case that has been ever been filed against the Vatican which has as its sole objective to hold the Vatican accountable for all the priest sex abuse ever committed in this country,” he told the AP. “There is no other defendant. There’s no bishop, no priest.”
The Vatican’s strategy so far has been to ask that the case be dismissed before any Vatican officials are asked to testify and before any Church documents can be subpoenaed.
Catholics are being bombarded with news of the international scandal during the high Catholic holidays. This week is holy week, the last of the 40 days of Lent, where Catholics mark with worship Christ’s last supper, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.
“Recent heavy coverage of sex-abuse allegations in Europe by the New York Times and other secular publications has understandably sparked both anger and confusion. Unfortunately, much of the coverage and commentary has been flawed,” wrote Chaput or one of his staffers yesterday at the archdiocese website. The short paragraph goes on to provide links to pieces posted at Catholic websites and the conservative National Review critiquing the “secular” coverage. But the allegations are not only European and they are not just allegations. The abuse of 200 deaf boys molested over decades reported by the New York Times happened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. No one is refuting the fact of the abuse– unless you count Chaput’s unsigned backpedaling paragraph to the “angry and confused” faithful in Colorado.