28 April 2010

They're still trying

The New York Times is still trying to directly connect Pope Benedict XVI to the sexual abuse scandal (with my emphases and comments):

VIENNA — As Pope Benedict XVI has come under scrutiny for his handling of sexual abuse cases, both his supporters and his critics have paid fresh attention to the way he responded to a sexual abuse scandal in Austria in the 1990s [Remember: the CDF was not responsible for these cases until 2001], one of the most damaging to confront the church in Europe.

Defenders of Benedict cite his role in dealing with Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër of Vienna as evidence that he moved assertively, if quietly, against abusers. They point to the fact that Cardinal Groër left office six months after accusations against him of molesting boys first appeared in the Austrian news media in 1995. The future pope, they say, favored a full canonical investigation, only to be blocked by other ranking officials in the Vatican.

A detailed look at the rise and fall of the clergyman, who died in 2003, and the involvement of Benedict, a Bavarian theologian with many connections to German-speaking Austria, paints a more complex picture.

Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had the ear of Pope John Paul II and was able to block a favored candidate for archbishop of Vienna, clearing the way for Father Groër to assume the post in 1986, say senior church officials and priests with knowledge of the process. His critics question how this influence failed him nine years later in seeking a fuller investigation into the case [just because a person has influence upon another does not mean he controls the other person].

Benedict’s ambiguous role has made the Groër case a kind of Rorschach test of the future pope’s treatment of sexual abuse during his long stewardship of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s powerful doctrinal body.

There are indications that Benedict had a lower tolerance for sexual misconduct by elite clergy members than other top Vatican officials [Finally, they're acknowledging this].

Unlike John Paul, his predecessor, Benedict has as pope apologized and met with sexual abuse victims. But while he often, as a cardinal, used his clout to enforce doctrine and sideline clergy members whose views diverged from his own, he seemed less willing at that time to aggressively pursue sexual abusers [Really: why is this so difficult? As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger did not jurisdiction over these cases until 2001. It seems journalists have forgotten how to research their stories before writing the template].

Msgr. Helmut Schüller, a former vicar general of the Vienna Archdiocese, says the church cannot win back the trust of Catholics unless the pope is more forthcoming about his past role in managing abuse scandals [What role? He had no jurisdiction of these cases. This Monsignor, though helpful to the media, does not seem to know what he's talking about].

“He cannot expect others to be transparent, like the Irish bishops he appeals to in his letter, and not be transparent himself,” said Monsignor Schüller, who until 2005 was the archdiocese’s ombudsman for sexual abuse cases.

The Groër case occurred before the most recent public uproar over sexual abuse in the American church, and also before Cardinal Ratzinger was formally given the task of supervising the Vatican’s response to such scandals in 2001 [Aha! So they do know this! Now...what can't they put two and two together...?].

But it was also not an ordinary case of abuse [Is there such a thing as an "ordinary case of abuse"?]. It involved a clergyman, Cardinal Groër, with influential friends in the Roman Curia, the church’s administrative body, and a reported bond with John Paul over their shared devotion to the Virgin Mary. The results of a Vatican investigation at Cardinal Groër’s abbey in 1998 have never been released by the Vatican.

Four Austrian bishops, including his successor in Vienna, Archbishop Christoph Schönborn, now a cardinal, have deemed the accusations against Cardinal Groër accurate with “moral certainty.” [And this has what to do with Pope Benedict?] Some of his young victims, whose estimated number ranges from half a dozen to 30, later recounted how he would ask them to come to his room for confession, demand they take off their clothes and then abuse them.

Thousands of Austrian Catholics left the church as a result of the Groër scandal and many more joined grass-roots movements challenging Rome’s centralized control and conservatism [Oh? Have we evidence of this? Where are the references in this article? I don't know that many left the Church over this particular scandal, but thousands? That seems an exaggeration to me].

For the rest of his life, until his death seven years ago, Cardinal Groër never confessed [that cannot be known] or faced trial [that is not the fault of Pope Benedict XVI or of the Church. Where is the author's outrage toward the civil authorities who failed in this matter? If four Cardinals could arrive at "moral certitude," surely it couldn't have been too difficult for the civil authorities to find something. But, remember, these attacks on Pope Benedict are not really in the search for real justice]. His punishment was to withdraw from public life and, with the exception of a brief but contentious period at a German convent, live in another convent that he had founded years earlier.

The future Cardinal Groër, a Benedictine monk who organized high-profile monthly pilgrimages to a shrine in rural eastern Austria where he said he once had an apparition of the Virgin Mary, was a surprise choice when he was named archbishop on July 15, 1986, priests and senior church officials say [Why was he a surprise?].

A Favorite Is Blocked

The favorite on the final short list was a conservative clergyman, the Rev. Kurt Krenn [apparently he wasn't too favored], who had close ties to some of John Paul’s closest confidants, two senior officials with knowledge of the process said.

“The energetic protest of Cardinal Ratzinger was decisive in removing Kurt Krenn from the list,” said one of the officials [for what reasons?], who worked at the Vienna Archdiocese at the time and who declined to be identified because the procedure is confidential.

Benedict, known for his rigorous theology, objected that his Austrian colleague, Father Krenn, did not have a Ph.D. in theology, but rather in philosophy, say officials and priests in Vienna who knew both men [surely there was something more to it than this or I doubt he launched an "energetic protest." That really seems rather out of character].

Father Krenn, who became a bishop in 1987, also had a reputation for being a loose cannon [Ah, now we find the real reason for Ratzinger's objections, I suspect]. In 2004, he had to retire early after dismissing the discovery at his seminary of a large cache of child pornography and images of young priests having sex as “boyish pranks” [it seems as though Ratinzer's judgment about him was correct; he ought to be praised for this. Imagine what might have happened had Kerr been named Archbishop].

Bishop Krenn, said to be in poor health, was unavailable for an interview.

The Rev. Rudolf Schermann, at the time in charge of two parishes and now the publisher of the weekly magazine Kirche-In, said Benedict’s veto effectively propelled Cardinal Groër into the archdiocese [but is that Ratzinger's fault?].

In the words of Cardinal Schönborn, who first met Cardinal Ratzinger in 1972 when he was the future pope’s student and has been close to him ever since, Benedict “was the second most important man in the Vatican and had without doubt the ear of the pope” [this no one doubts].

But blocking Bishop Krenn does not appear to have been accompanied by a thorough vetting of Cardinal Groër, who was already under suspicion within his own abbey of sexually abusing minors and young men [which, again, is not the fault of Ratzinger; neither he nor his office had authority for "vetting" potential bishops].

The Rev. Udo Fischer, a priest who attended the Hollabrunn boys’ seminary in eastern Austria in the 1960s and early 1970s, where Cardinal Groër had lived and taught for decades, said that in 1985 he personally warned the abbot of their local Benedictine monastery about Cardinal Groër’s inappropriate behavior with boys [so, where is the anger against the abbot? What did the abbot do with this information?], whom he often referred to as “little angels.”

Accusations Unreported

Father Fischer told Abbot Clemens Lashofer of Göttweig Abbey that he himself had been molested by Cardinal Groër when they worked together on a youth movement devoted to the Virgin Mary in the early 1970s, and that he had observed him acting inappropriately with others who were not willing to come forward.

When Father Fischer learned about Cardinal Groër’s appointment as archbishop, he said he sent an angry telegram to Abbot Lashofer and asked why he had not spoken up. The abbot, who was head of Austria’s Benedictine order at the time, claimed he had never been questioned by the Vatican’s representative, the nuncio [that's a cheap dodge. But, still, where is the anger against this abbot who did not make his knowledge known? And, why did Father Fischer not contact the nuncio directly himself?].

“If they really did not ask him, they did not want to know,” Father Fischer said [or they didn't know the abbot knew anything]. Abbot Lashofer died last year [still no anger against him?].

Priests and church law experts say that the process of due diligence the Vatican performs on candidates for bishop is usually rigorous.

Members of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, whose ranks included Cardinal Ratzinger at the time [one among many who were not tasked personally with the vetting process], tend to review detailed files about the candidates before deciding which ones to recommend to the pope [compiled by others].

“It is a very complicated procedure,” said Lorenz Wolf, judicial vicar of the archdiocese in Munich. “It is very improbable that someone could hide something” [improbable, maybe, but still quite possible].

The rumors surrounding Cardinal Groër’s transgressions went beyond the circle of those who suffered at his hands. Josef Votzi, the journalist who broke the scandal in 1995 in the magazine Profil, is another Hollabrunn alumnus and said that even among staff members of the Vienna Archdiocese he interviewed when Father Groër was named archbishop, his history was “an open secret” [if his activity was "an open secret," how could Votzi "break the scandal" at all?].

In 1995, a victim came forward, telling Profil that the archbishop, then his religion teacher and confessor, had sexually abused him for four years two decades earlier at Hollabrunn.

In Rome a few weeks later, Cardinal Schönborn said, Cardinal Ratzinger told him behind closed doors that he wanted to set up a fact-finding commission to establish clarity [I don't doubt Schonborn's words, but even so Ratzinger did not have jurisdiction yet over such cases. He may well have wanted to launch an investigation but he himself couldn't give the order to do so]. “That for me is one of the best indications that I know from personal experience that today’s pope had a very decisive, clear way of handling abuse cases,” he said.

In a subsequent conversation later that year, Benedict “explicitly regretted that the commission had not been set up,” Cardinal Schönborn said. “It became clear very quickly that the current that prevailed in Rome was not the one demanding clarity here. Cardinal Ratzinger told me that the other side, the diplomatic side, had prevailed.”

Where John Paul II stood himself remains unclear [but were Ratzinger stood is clear as ever, and it is not where the media claim he stood. Even their own articles demonstrate this, even if they cannot see it], church officials in Vienna with knowledge of the case said. The “diplomatic side,” they said, was led by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the personal secretary of John Paul II.

Cardinal Schönborn said he could not explain why Cardinal Ratzinger had so much influence with the pope on other matters, but lacked the clout to have Cardinal Groër investigated for abuse [only the late Pope could explain this]. “I am not responsible to explain everything,” he said. “I just know that that is how it was.”

Nor did Benedict’s subsequent communications on the matter shed much light on the scandal. In letters he sent to Austrian clergy members after the scandal, he made no mention of the former archbishop’s transgressions [which, given the civil authorities also did not act, is most likely because the transgressions were not proven], instead warning bishops against ceding ground on the reformist proposals of the Catholic grass-roots movements that had sprung up [note: the letters he wrote were not dealing with sexual abuse. One doesn't often talk about wars in China when writing about a hamburger].

In 1996, Cardinal Groër was named head of a priory in Germany then overseen by Göttweig Abbey and still appeared at official church functions. This sparked a vocal rebellion in Göttweig in late 1997, among some of his former students and victims, who called for his resignation.

Faced with such upheaval, church officials removed Cardinal Groër from the priory and sent him back in January to the convent where he had lived after he was forced out in 1995. Shortly afterward, John Paul II approved a Vatican investigation.

‘Serious Punishment’

Abbot Franziskus Heereman, who helped conduct the inquiry, or visitation, says that Cardinal Ratzinger was the driving force inside the Vatican behind the investigation [but I thought the NYT said Ratzinger was at fault for little action being done? Where is a public apology and correction?].

After the one-week visitation ended in March, Cardinal Groër was removed from the priory (for “health reasons”), told to stay out of public view and sent to a convent in eastern Germany for six months [hmm...that didn't take very long, did it?]. “Imposing on a cardinal to stay out of the public view and forbidding him to take part in official ceremonies is a very serious punishment,” Cardinal Schönborn said.

But no result of the investigation was ever made public, and Cardinal Groër never faced a church court or even a public rebuke from Rome, let alone a secular trial [again I ask: where is the anger against the civil authorities? Where is the investigation into their lack of action?].

Many in the Austrian clergy criticized what they saw as an attempt by Rome to protect a cardinal while ignoring victims demanding justice. Prior Gottfried Schätz, the No. 2 at Göttweig Abbey who had helped lead the outcry against Cardinal Groër, left in September 1998 and requested removal from the priesthood, which he was granted unusually quickly, within a year, Father Fischer said.

Father Schermann said, “They did as much as they had at each point in time given the public outcry, and no more.”


  1. Father, much of the defense of Pope Benedict/Card. Ratzinger seems to focus on the fact that he had no "FORMAL" responsibility for investigating/disciplining/removing abusive priests as head of the CDF for the first 15 or so years he was head of the CDF. I can understand that line of defense, at least to a degree. However, is it safe to assume that chief among Card. Ratzinger's duties was the disciplining of dissenting theologians, priests, bishops, etc., throughout his tenure at the CDF? I'm thinking, for example, of the CDF's jurisdiction in conducting an investigation into Archbishop Hunthausen of Seattle. Card. Ratzinger would likely have had significant influence in such a case, wouldn't he?

    If so, the media wonder (and many Catholics in the pews wonder), why would disciplining a priest, etc. over doctrine or adherance to liturgical norms, teachings about remarriage without annulments, etc., be of a higher priority to the CDF than a case in which a priest had abused (and probably continued to abuse) children. Why would the CDF concern itself over doctrinal dissent but not rapes committed by church personnel? It's not such an unreasonable question, is it? Official doctrine is important, yes, but why would it be seen as more important to the CDF than abuse which certainly undermined (and even directly contradicted) the very spirit of Christian doctrine?

    I've read arguments asserting that Card. Ratzinger MAY have been pleading with JP2 for years (decades) to give the CDF formal, official jurisdiction over abuse cases. Why on earth would it take that long for the message to sink in? Are we to assume that JP2 was simply so stubborn that when his trusted adviser, Card. Ratzinger, one of the most powerful men in the church and head of the CDF for so very long, brought this concern to him long before 2002, JP2 turned a deaf ear to Card. Ratzinger's supposed plea? If that's the case, perhaps the Vatican should put the brakes on JP2's sainthood cause.

    Sins of commission and sins of omission: anyone, including popes and cardinals, can be guilty of both categories of sins. Who are we to assume felt short in taking decisive action when credible evidence arrived at the Holy See? Are we bound by the very tenets of our faith to assume that neither Card. Ratzinger nor Pope John Paul II could ever be guilty of neglecting their responsibilities in stopping the rape of children? Turning a blind eye to the evidence that was credibily presented to the Vatican -- no chance of a major sin of omission there, no chance at all? I'd like to believe that; many faithful Catholics would. But I'm not sure I do.

  2. Great comments father, thank you.

    Schonborn is playing a deep game; he bears watching.

  3. Steve,

    First let me apologize for not posting your comment sooner; it was buried in my inbox.

    Regarding Cardinal Ratzinger's role at the CDF, it is only safe to assume that he was responsible for the theological discipline of clerics who strayed theologically. His Congregation was not given charge of cases of sexual abuse until 2001, and then at his insistence.

    Prior to that, he _may_ have been able to influence a decision, but he may not have been, too; that responsibility lies with those to whom such cases had been entrusted, which seems to have been the Rota (which is perpetually bogged down). It has to be remembered that a person's influence isn't always consistent.

    The CDF didn't concern itself with cases of abuse before 2001 before it did not have the competence to do so. Each individual Congregation can do only that which it is given to do. Now that the CDF does have competence/jurisdiction of these cases, it does concern itself with them, and very rightly.

    I don't disagree with your line of thinking; however, it wasn't the structure at the time. Admittedly, this isn't the ideal answer, but it is the answer. Why the CDF was not given charge of such cases until 2001 is beyond me, particularly because Cardinal Ratzinger had been requesting it for some time, it seems.

    The brakes should not be put on for John Paul II's beatifaction. Such a process and judgment has no bearing on a person's administrative abilities or sensibilities; admittedly, JPII's were weak.

    Part of his reluctance seems to be that he was simnply unable to believe that a priest could act in such a way so as to abuse a child. The priests he knew in Poland where heroic and risked their lives each day. For good or ill, that was his notion of the priesthood and an abusive priest was simply not possible in his line of thinking, until clearly confronted with the evidence. Why it took so long to sink in, I cannot say.

    The difficulty with declaring a sin of ommission is that we simply do not know what was known and when. (The article on men in dresses answers each allegation simply and well).

    At the same time, declaring a sin of ommission implies that that something was deliberately not done to harm other people. I do not think such is the case here.