Clergy abuse threatens to tarnish pope’s legacy

Clergy abuse threatens to tarnish pope’s legacy

By VICTOR L. SIMPSON
The Associated Press
Friday, March 26, 2010; 9:06 PM

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is facing one of its gravest crises of modern times as sex abuse scandals move ever closer to Pope Benedict XVI – threatening not only his own legacy but also that of his revered predecessor.

Benedict took a much harder stance on sex abuse than John Paul II when he assumed the papacy five years ago, disciplining a senior cleric championed by the Polish pontiff and defrocking others under a new policy of zero tolerance.

But the impression remains of a woefully slow-footed church and of a pope who bears responsibility for allowing pedophile priests to keep their parishes.

In an editorial on Friday, the National Catholic Reporter in the United States 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.

It all comes down to the question of what the pope knew and when. The answer will almost certainly determine the fate of Benedict’s papacy.

As he approaches Holy Week, the most solemn period on the Christian calendar, victims groups and other critics are demanding Benedict accept personal responsibility. A few say he should resign.

Some fear the crisis will alienate Catholics from the church, with a survey in Benedict’s native Germany already showing disaffection among Catholics while there is deep anger in once very Catholic Ireland.

As the climate worsens, the Vatican is showing increasing impatience and even anger, denouncing what it says is a campaign to smear the pope.

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said this week there was a “clear and despicable intention” to strike at Benedict “at any cost.”

But as attention focuses on Benedict, a perhaps thornier question looms over how much John Paul II, beloved worldwide for his inspirational charisma and courageous stand against communism, knew about sex abuse cases and whether he was too tolerant of pedophile priests.

John Paul presided over the church when the sex abuse scandal exploded in the United States in 2002 and the Vatican was swamped with complaints and lawsuits under his leadership. Yet during most of his 26-year papacy, individual dioceses and not the Vatican took sole responsibility for investigating misbehavior.

Professor Nick Cafardi, a canon and civil lawyer and former chairman of the U.S. bishops lay review board that monitored abuse, said Benedict was “very courageous” to reverse Vatican support for the Legionaries of Christ, a sex scandal-tainted organization staunchly defended by John Paul.

John Paul was already ailing from Parkinson’s disease when the U.S. scandal erupted, a factor supporters say may have kept him from initially realizing its scope.

While Cardinal Bernard Law became the most high-profile church figure to fall, resigning as archbishop of Boston over the scandal, John Paul gave him a soft landing, appointing him as head of a Rome basilica and keeping him on various Vatican committees.

The world-traveling John Paul has been put on a fast track for sainthood by Benedict in response to popular demand. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the emeritus head of the Vatican’s saint-making office, said this week that historians who studied the pope’s life didn’t find anything problematic in John Paul’s handling of abuse scandals.

“According to them there was nothing that was a true obstacle to his cause of beatification. They are very strict,” Saraiva Martins said.

For Benedict, a quiet intellectual who will be 83 next month, the scandal must be trying.

Until recently, Benedict had received high marks for his handling of sex abuse – seen as a bright spot amid turmoil over his remarks linking Islam to violence and his rehabilitation of an ultraconservative bishop who denies the Holocaust.

Shortly before his election as pope in 2005 he had denounced “filth” in the church – widely viewed as a reference to clerics who abused children. He proclaimed a policy of zero tolerance for offenders and met and prayed with victims while traveling in the United States and Australia.

Benedict won praise for moving against the Legionaries of Christ, the conservative order once hailed by John Paul that fell into scandal after it revealed that its founder had fathered a child and had molested seminarians.

The Vatican began investigating allegations against the Rev. Marcial Maciel of Mexico in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 2006, a year into Benedict’s pontificate, that the Vatican instructed Maciel to lead a “reserved life of prayer and penance” in response to the abuse allegations – effectively removing him from power.

But reaction changed as the abuse scandal moved across Europe and into Benedict’s native Germany in recent months, touching the pontiff himself with a case dating to his tenure as archbishop of Munich.

The former vicar general of the Munich archdiocese has absolved the pope of responsibility in the case of the Rev. Peter Hullermann, accused of abusing boys.

While then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was involved in a 1980 decision to transfer Hullermann to Munich for therapy, Ratzinger’s then-deputy took responsibility for a subsequent decision to let the priest return to pastoral duties. Hullermann was convicted of sexual abuse in 1986.

However, the New York Times reported Friday that Ratzinger was copied in on a memo stating Hullermann would be returned to pastoral work within days of beginning psychiatric treatment. The archdiocese insisted Ratzinger was unaware of the decision and that any other version was “mere speculation.”

In another case, documents show the Vatican office responsible for disciplining priests, while headed by Ratzinger, halted a church trial of a Milwaukee priest accused of molesting some 200 deaf boys from 1950-1975.

Two Wisconsin bishops had urged the Vatican to approve the proceeding against the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, arguing that even though it was years after the alleged abuse, the deaf community in Milwaukee was demanding justice. The trial was approved in 1997, only to be halted after an appeal by the priest to Ratzinger. Murphy died in 1998.

Murphy’s eventual punishment was a restriction on celebrating Mass and on visiting the deaf community.

Such light disciplinary measures remain the norm in the majority of sex abuse cases.

Of the 3,000 cases the Vatican has received since 2001, only 20 percent have gone to a full canonical trial, the Vatican’s chief prosecutor Monsignor Charles Scicluna said. Disciplinary sanctions were imposed in 60 percent, such as priests being ordered to live a retired life of prayer and not celebrate Mass publicly; in only 10 percent were the accused priests defrocked.

The abuse crisis in the United States, which involved 4 percent of the American priesthood, showed a pattern of bishops covering for errant clerics, at times moving them from parish to parish. The latest documents point to Vatican complicity, although the Vatican denies there was any cover-up.

Defenders of Benedict, such as British Archbishop Vincent Nichols, say that as cardinal he made important changes in church law to crack down on offenders and was not an “idle observer.”

French bishops rallied around Benedict in a letter on Friday, saying while they deplored clerical sex abuse, the issue “is being used in a campaign to attack you personally.”

Still, it is in Germany where Benedict’s popularity has taken a real hit.

A poll in Stern magazine released this week shows only 39 percent of Germany’s Catholics trust the pope, down from 62 percent in late January. Some 34 percent trust the Catholic church as an institution, down from 56 percent in January. The margin of error was 2.5 percentage points.

Rainer Kampling, a professor of Catholic theology at Berlin Free University, says the idea that the pope might resign – slipping polls not withstanding – is hardly realistic. “The pope is not a politician,” he said.

Herbert Kohlmaier, chairman of an Austrian Catholic group that has criticized Benedict, also said a resignation shouldn’t be expected. “They certainly won’t let a symbolic figure like that go.”

While church law allows for the resignation of a pope, there are few precedents over the church’s two millennium history. The last was by 15th-century Pope Gregory XII, and that was not over scandal but rather a schism in the church.

On Satan’s trail with Don Gabriele, the world’s most famous exorcist

On Satan’s trail with Don Gabriele, the world’s most famous exorcist

Richard Owen, Rome

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Father Gabriele Amorth said Pope Benedict XVI himself ?fully believes in liberation from Evil, because the Devil lodges in the Vatican.

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Father Gabriele Amorth

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“Are you afraid of the Devil?” The world’s most famous exorcist levels his gaze at me and then smiles.

“No, it is he who is afraid of me. I work in the name of the Lord. Poor Satan.”

Poor Satan?

“Oh yes. The Evil One shouts and makes noises, but we are made in God’s image, we have the Holy Trinity on our side. There is no need to be afraid of the Devil unless we give in to his temptations.”

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We are in the infirmary of the Society of St Paul, the order of Father Gabriele Amorth, in the shadow of St Paul’s Basilica, Rome. The Vatican’s chief exorcist was taken to hospital last autumn with a blood infection and is now convalescing — “they found nothing serious”. Perhaps it was the Devil who laid him low. “Oh no — just an illness. He has more serious evil to perform.”

Father Amorth made headlines this week by suggesting that those who had “given in to Satan’s temptations” included paedophile priests and even some cardinals and bishops who paid only lip service to the Gospels.

The growing crisis over the clerical sex abuse now engulfing Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican, he said, was the work of Satan, who had even “infiltrated the Vatican corridors”.

Is the sex abuse crisis really due to the Devil? “Oh yes. All evil is due to the intervention of the Devil, including paedophilia.”

And the Vatican? “Legions of demons have lodged there. The majority of those in the Vatican do good work. But Pope Paul VI talked about the ‘smoke of Satan’ infiltrating the Vatican as long ago as 1972. Satan sets out to damage the leadership of the Church — and of politics, industry and sport, for that matter.”

And although all manner of incidents, scandals and misdemeanours in Italy and abroad leap to mind as potential evidence of diabolical intervention, he declines to give examples. Father Amorth — or Don Gabriele, as he is universally known — has just published The Memoirs of an Exorcist, a book of interviews with Marco Tosatti, the Vatican journalist. In a style that is somewhat reminiscent of a medieval chronicle, he describes his often hair-raising experiences over the past quarter of a century in the front line against the Evil One and his minions.

Father Amorth, aged nearly 85, is honorary president of the International Association of Exorcists. He fought for the Resistance in the Second World War, took a law degree but then entered the Church. He began conducting exorcisms shortly after his ordination 60 years ago; in 1986 he was appointed by Cardinal Ugo Poletti, then the Vicar of Rome, as assistant to Father Candido Amantini, the chief exorcist, eventually succeeding him.

Now frail, he becomes animated as he describes his life-long struggle with demons who possess the bodies of their victims, at one stage spreading his arms wide to show me the length of one particular demon occupying the body of a woman he had “liberated”.

He talks to Lucifer and his demons, he says, and knows their names. On the writing table in his room he keeps pictures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, “who came into the world to fight the Devil and return us to God”. But the modern world, he says, has “given in to the Evil One. You see it in the lack of faith, the empty churches, the collapse of the family.”

“Compare the world of today to when I was a boy in Modena: families and parish communities were strong, women did not go out to work. Now they have to because one income cannot support a family. So young people are left to their own devices, they get into bad company, they have lost their roots and replaced them with the negative influences of television and the internet, or the occult.”

What about those who believe in neither God nor Satan? “The Devil is only too happy to take advantage of those who do not believe in his existence. It means he can operate with complete freedom, even inside the Church. He exploits lust and power.”

The Devil tries to reach all of us, Father Amorth adds, and “the possessed are those who listen to him most. Mind you, they are a minority. If you read my book you might get the impression the whole world is possessed, but I am describing a small number of cases, comparatively speaking.”

His claim to have carried out 70,000 exorcisms seems incredible. “But I was talking about the number of exorcisms, not the number of people exorcised. You often have to exorcise someone dozens, even hundreds, of times, and an exorcism ritual can take anything from a few minutes to several hours.”

Exorcism can only be done with the approval of the local bishop, usually after medical or psychiatric tests show no rational explanation for the symptoms, which include vomiting, violent headaches and stomach cramps but also superhuman strength, fits and extreme aversion to holy symbols. He is adept, he says, at distinguishing hysterics from the real thing. There are more women than men among the possessed, “but we don’t know why. There are various explanations: Satan taking revenge on the Virgin Mary, or using women as a means of reaching men. None of them is convincing.”

The possessed talk in languages they do not know, including ancient tongues such as Aramaic, the language of Christ. “Sometimes the language is incomprehensible. I once asked a demon what it was and he said, ‘Satanic language’.” The victims often react so violently to the ritual of prayers, incantations, holy water and the sign of the Cross that they have to be held or tied down while the priest touches the possessed person with his stole and places his hand on his or her head.

In many cases, he says, they vomit objects such as nails or glass. Father Amorth has a collection weighing two kilograms. “You get used to being vomited over. I once performed an exorcism on a woman who managed to hit me in the face with a stream of vomit from the other side of the room — physically impossible.”

The Devil, he says, is humourless but does sometimes play tricks. He and his demons speak through the victim, sometimes using their normal voice but sometimes in hoarse, raucous tones. He imitates the unnerving low growl for me. They are not, however visible, any more than angels are.

“Angels exist, and how, but they are not as depicted in art — they are pure spirit. We all have guardian angels. Demons are, of course, fallen angels who rebelled against God; that is why they are so intelligent, and so arrogant.”

He does not believe in ghosts, which are “an invention of the human mind”.

Father Amorth has no designated successor, and complains that even now the Church hierarchy does not take exorcism — or the Devil — seriously enough. But “the Lord has made use of me” and his example has inspired many other priests — as did the 1973 film The Exorcist, which although “exaggerated” was “substantially true”.

At his age does he still have the stomach for the battle with Satan? “Oh yes. I have work to do.”

Child abuse claims sweep Catholic Church in Europe

Child abuse claims sweep Catholic Church in Europe

By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press Writer Shawn Pogatchnik, Associated Press Writer Sat Mar 13, 11:40 am ET

DUBLIN – It often starts as a voice in the wilderness, but can swell into an entire nation’s demand for truth. From Ireland to Germany, Europe’s many victims of child abuse in the Roman Catholic church are finally breaking social taboos and confronting the clergy to face its demons.

Ireland was the first in Europe to confront the church’s worldwide custom of shielding pedophile priests from the law and public scandal. Now that legacy of suppressed childhood horror is being confronted in other parts of the Continent — nowhere more poignantly than in Germany, the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI.

The recent spread of claims into the Netherlands, Austria and Italy has analysts and churchmen wondering how deep the scandal runs, which nation will be touched next, and whether a tide of lawsuits will force European dioceses to declare bankruptcy like their American cousins.

“You have to presume that the cover-up of abuse exists everywhere, to one extent or another. A new case could appear in a new country tomorrow,” said David Quinn, director of a Christian think tank, the Iona Institute, that seeks to promote family values in an Ireland increasingly cool to Catholicism.

Quinn noted that stories of systemic physical, sexual and emotional abuse circulated privately in Irish society for decades, but only moved aboveground in the mid-1990s when former altar boy Andrew Madden and orphanage survivor Christine Buckley went public with lawsuits and exposes of how priests and nuns tormented them with impunity.

Floodgates opened for Irish complaints that have topped 15,000 in this country of 4 million. Three government-ordered investigations have shocked and disgusted the nation, which has footed most of the bill to settle legal claims topping euro1 billion (nearly $1.5 billion).

“A lot comes down to: When does that first victim gather the courage to come forward into the spotlight?” Quinn said. “It seems to take that trigger event, the lone voice who says what so many kept silent so long. That’s basically happening now in Germany. It could happen next in Spain, Poland, anywhere.”

In January, an elite Jesuit school in Berlin declared it was aware of seven child-abuse cases in its past and appointed an outside investigator, Ursula Raue, to seek testimony. Within weeks, she had gathered stories of long-suppressed woe from more than 100 ex-students abused by their Jesuit masters, and from 60 molested by parish priests.

“I always thought that at some point the wave would reach us,” said Petra Dorsch-Jungsberger, a commentator on Catholic affairs and retired University of Munich communications professor.

She credited heavy German media coverage of the latest Irish abuse scandal — a November report into decades of cover-up in the Dublin Archdiocese involving approximately 170 priests — with inspiring similar soul-searching in Germany.

“Once the door had been opened, then many others felt they were able to step up and say: That happened to us too,” she said.

In recent weeks, new German abuse claims have surfaced on a near-daily basis and spread to Pope Benedict’s Bavarian heartland and the Regensberg boys’ choir long directed by the pope’s brother. Benedict was Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich from 1977 to 1982, and questions now focus on what role, if any, the pontiff, played in handing pedophile priests to new parishes rather than to the law.

A Swiss abbot said in an interview published Saturday that 60 people have reported being victims of abuse by Catholic priests in Switzerland.

Abbot Martin Werlen of the Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln told Swiss daily Aargauer Zeitung that the allegations were reported to the Swiss Bishops Conference, which is investigating them.

The Vatican on Saturday denounced what it called aggressive attempts to drag Pope Benedict XVI into the spreading scandals of pedophile priests in his German homeland, and contended he has long confronted abuse cases with courage.

In separate interviews, both the Holy See’s spokesman and its prosecutor for sex abuse of minors by clergy sought to defend the pope.

“It’s rather clear that in the last days, there have been those who have tried, with a certain aggressive persistence, in Regensburg and Munich, to look for elements to personally involve the Holy Father in the matter of abuses,” Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

It’s inevitable that all bishops of the day, including Ratzinger, handled abuse complaints against priests in-house, said the Rev. Fergus O’Donoghue, editor of the Irish Jesuit journal Studies.

“The pope was no different to any other bishop at time. The church policy was to keep it all quiet — to help people, but to avoid scandal. Avoiding scandal was a huge issue for the church,” he said. “Of course there was cover-up,” he added. But worse was “the systematic lack of concern for the victims.”

In the Netherlands, a former Catholic boarding-school abuse victim is leading a campaign for accountability. Bert Smeets, 58, has formed Mea Culpa, a victims group that has collected testimony from hundreds of abuse victims and is mulling a class-action lawsuit against the Dutch church.

The church has apologized to the victims and set up an inquiry headed by a former government minister, a Protestant. Smeets dismisses that effort as “a typical Vatican cover-up.” He said the pressure on the church came from aggressive investigations into abuse in Ireland and the U.S.

In other predominantly Catholic areas of Europe, child-abuse scandals have tarnished individual priests and even a Polish archbishop, but have not mushroomed into a mass movement. In Spain, more than a dozen priests have been convicted of child abuse in recent decades and two potentially larger-scale cases are attracting attention.

Ireland was until relatively recently the most enthusiastically Catholic country in Europe. Its half-dozen seminaries exported priests worldwide. All but one of those seminaries is closed now, illustrating the rapid falloff in Mass attendance as the economy has advanced and secularism has spread.

Quinn, the Dublin think-tank director, noted that a few Irish dioceses are openly warning that they’re struggling to pay bills stemming from abuse claims. In the southeast diocese of Kells, the archbishop’s house has had to be remortgaged.

“The church is asset-rich but cash-poor,” Quinn said, noting that it’s the biggest property owner in Ireland but has comparatively little cash in the bank. He said the Vatican, too, has less money on tap than resides in the endowment fund of a typical top-tier U.S. university.

___

Associated Press Writers Melissa Eddy in Berlin, Ciaran Giles in Madrid, Nicole Winfield in Rome, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.

We have drifted into a desert of godlessness (and a happy Easter to all): Pope gives Good Friday address

We have drifted into a desert of godlessness (and a happy Easter to all): Pope gives Good Friday address

Vatican official on Saturday attacked US President Barack Obama for “arrogance”

A senior Vatican official on Saturday attacked US President Barack Obama for “arrogance” for overturning a ban on state funding for family-planning groups that carry out or facilitate abortions overseas.It is “the arrogance of someone who believes they are right, in signing a decree which will open the door to abortion and thus to the destruction of human life,” Archbishop Rino Fisichella was quoted as saying by the Corriere della Sera daily.

Fisichella is president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, one of a number of so-called pontifical academies which are formed by or under the direction of the Holy See.

“What is important is to know how to listen… without locking oneself into ideological visions with the arrogance of a person who, having the power, thinks they can decide on life and death,” he added.

Obama signed the executive order cancelling the eight-year-old restrictions on Friday, the third full day of his presidency.

The so-called “global gag rule” cut off US funding to overseas family planning clinics which provide any abortion services whatsoever, from the operation itself to counselling, referrals or post-abortion services.

“If this is one of the first acts of President Obama, with all due respect, it seems to me that the path towards disappointment will have been very short,” Fisichella said.

“I do not believe that those who voted for him took into consideration ethical themes, which were astutely left aside during the election debate. The majority of the American population does not take the same position as the president and his team,” he added.

The order won Obama praise from Democratic lawmakers, family planning and women’s rights groups but drew angry condemnation from pro-life organisations and Republicans.

More than 250 health and human rights organisations from around the world sent Obama a letter, thanking him for ending a policy “which has contributed to the deaths and injuries of countless women and girls.”

Vatican: It’s OK to believe in aliens –From The Men In Pointy Hats

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