By KATRIN BENNHOLD and NICHOLAS KULISH
Published: March 27, 2010
The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI: How it looks to an American in the Vatican
By Cardinal William J. Levada
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Vatican Official Defends Pope’s Handling of Case
By RACHEL DONADIO
Published: March 31, 2010
As Archbishop, Benedict Focused on Doctrine
By KATRIN BENNHOLD and NICHOLAS KULISH
Published: March 27, 2010
MUNICH — When Pope Benedict XVI was archbishop of Munich and Freising, he was broadly described as a theologian more concerned with doctrinal debates than personnel matters. That, say his defenders, helps explain why he did not keep close tabs on a pedophile priest sent to his archdiocese in 1980 and allowed to work in a parish.
Yet in 1979, the year before Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, approved the Rev. Peter Hullermann’s move to Munich, the cardinal blocked the assignment to the local university of a prominent theology professor recommended by the university senate. And in 1981, he punished a priest for holding a Mass at a peace demonstration, leading the man to ultimately leave the priesthood.
Pope Benedict’s four-and-a-half-year tenure as archbishop is among the least-examined periods of his life, but his time presiding over 1,713 priests and 2.2 million Catholics was in many ways a dress rehearsal for his present job tending to the Roman Catholic Church’s more than one billion members worldwide.
As archbishop, Benedict expended more energy pursuing theological dissidents than sexual predators. Already in the early 1980s, one could catch a glimpse of a future pope preoccupied with combating any movement away from church tradition. Vatican experts say there is little evidence that Benedict spent much time investigating more than 200 cases of “problem priests” in the diocese, with issues including alcohol abuse, adultery and, now under the microscope, pedophilia.
“His natural habitat was the faculty lounge, and he hadn’t even been a faculty chair,” said John L. Allen Jr. of The National Catholic Reporter. “He would be the first to concede he was much more interested in the life of the mind than the nuts and bolts of administrative work.”
Andreas Englisch, a leading German Vatican expert and the author of several books on Benedict, said that Cardinal Ratzinger “was never interested in bureaucratic stuff,” and noted that when he was first asked to be archbishop of Munich, he considered turning down the post because he did not want to work as “a manager.” In his autobiography, Benedict described taking the post as “an infinitely difficult decision.”
His management decisions are now the central focus of the widening scandal in the church in Germany. His supporters say that although he approved Father Hullermann’s move to his archdiocese, they assume that he may not have paid attention to a memo informing him that the priest, who had sexually abused boys in his previous posting, was almost immediately allowed to resume parish duties.
“He certainly would not have realized anything; he was in a different sphere,” said Hannes Burger, 72, who covered the church, including during Benedict’s time as archbishop, for the Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“He held beautiful sermons and wrote beautifully, but the details he left to his staff,” said Mr. Burger, who interviewed the future pope several times before he went to Rome. “He was a professorial bishop, with Rome as his goal.”
Three decades ago it was common practice in the church to ignore or cover up incidents of molestation, or, in severe cases, to transfer priests to faraway parishes. Even outside the church, both victims and law enforcement authorities were less likely to take decisive steps to expose and combat abuse.
But Benedict’s track record in handling such cases under his direct control has assumed new relevance because he presides over a church troubled by scandal. He has to weigh whether and how severely to punish bishops who failed to act to deal with abuses in their domains.
In fact, in his efforts to combat child abuse in 2010, Benedict faces a dilemma over how to handle the same kind of institutional secrecy that was practiced by his own archdiocese in 1980. The future pope himself chose “co-workers of the truth,” as the motto for his time as archbishop.
The case is alarming, wrote the German newspaper Die Zeit last week, not “because Ratzinger was guilty of an exceptional offense.”
“It is the other way around: It is significant because the archbishop acted as probably most other dignitaries in those years,” it wrote. “In 1980 Joseph Ratzinger was part of the problem that preoccupies him today.”
Benedict was a stern disciplinarian on the issue that propelled him up the church hierarchy. An early enthusiast for reform in the Catholic Church in the early 1960s, he soon changed his mind and joined the ranks of those trying to put the brakes on the liberalizing forces unleashed by the counterculture movement.
His time in Munich was marked by confrontations with the local clergy, theologians and priests who worked there at the time say.
Cardinal Ratzinger ruffled feathers almost upon arrival in Munich by ordering priests to return to celebrating First Communion and first confession in the same year, rather than having the first confession a year later, a practice that had become established over the previous decade, and which its advocates considered more appropriate for young children.
One priest, the Rev. Wilfried Sussbauer, said he wrote to the archbishop at the time questioning the change, and said Cardinal Ratzinger “wrote me an extremely biting letter” in response.
After receiving the letter, Father Sussbauer and other priests asked for an audience with their archbishop in 1977. They did not get one. But the visiting sister of President Jimmy Carter did. When the priests found out, they called Cardinal Ratzinger’s office. “We asked, ‘Who is more important, your own priests or the sister of the American president?’ ” Father Sussbauer, 77, recalled. “Then suddenly we got an appointment.”
Cardinal Ratzinger was already something of a clerical diplomat, traveling as the official representative of Pope John Paul I to Ecuador in 1978. And with two conclaves to select a new pope in 1978, it seemed at times as if the archbishop already had one foot in the Vatican.
“His predecessor as archbishop was simply more aware of the practical problems of pastoral work,” said Wolfgang Seibel, a Jesuit priest and editor of the Munich-based magazine Stimmen der Zeit from 1966 to 1998. “He didn’t have enough time to leave his mark.”
How closely he would have watched personnel decisions, especially with an administrative chief, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, who had been in his post since 1968, is an open question. But the transfer of Father Hullermann from Essen would not have been a routine matter, experts said.
Mr. Englisch, the Vatican expert, said that transferring a problem priest was “such a difficult decision” that it would necessarily have required his opinion.
“I think the guy who handled it would have gone to his archbishop and said, ‘This case of transferring a priest is not common, and we should really have an eye on him,’ ” Mr. Englisch said. Referring to Benedict, he added, “I don’t think that he really knew the details; I don’t think he was really interested in the details.”
“As they say in the legal profession, you either knew or you should have known,” said the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, who once worked at the Vatican Embassy in Washington and became an early and well-known whistle-blower on sexual abuse in the church. “The archbishop is the unquestioned authority in that diocese. The buck stops there.”
Rachel Donadio and Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome.
A version of this article appeared in print on March 28, 2010, on page A6 of the New York edition.
Over these last days, you've seen many responses by top clerics regarding Pope Benedict's actions as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, all criticizing the reporting of the record as produced by the New York Times.
Until now, though, you've seen nothing like this.
In the biggest underscore yet of the significance and seriousness which the Vatican has taken the 25 March Times piece laying out the Murphy Case, Catholic San Francisco features a rare intervention: an extensive commentary on the situation from the pontiff's successor at the CDF -- the city's former archbishop, now Cardinal William Levada.
Given the piece's import, here it is in full:
The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI:
how it looks to an American in the Vatican
By Cardinal William J. Levada
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
In our melting pot of peoples, languages and backgrounds, Americans are not noted as examples of “high” culture. But we can take pride as a rule in our passion for fairness. In the Vatican where I currently work, my colleagues – whether fellow cardinals at meetings or officials in my office – come from many different countries, continents and cultures. As I write this response today (March 26, 2010) I have had to admit to them that I am not proud of America’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, as a paragon of fairness.
I say this because today’s Times presents both a lengthy article by Laurie Goodstein, a senior columnist, headlined “Warned About Abuse, Vatican Failed to Defrock Priest,” and an accompanying editorial entitled “The Pope and the Pedophilia Scandal,” in which the editors call the Goodstein article a disturbing report (emphasis in original) as a basis for their own charges against the Pope. Both the article and the editorial are deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that Americans have every right and expectation to find in their major media reporting.
In her lead paragraph, Goodstein relies on what she describes as “newly unearthed files” to point out what the Vatican (i.e. then Cardinal Ratzinger and his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) did not do – “defrock Fr. Murphy.” Breaking news, apparently. Only after eight paragraphs of purple prose does Goodstein reveal that Fr. Murphy, who criminally abused as many as 200 deaf children while working at a school in the Milwaukee Archdiocese from 1950 to 1974, “not only was never tried or disciplined by the church’s own justice system, but also got a pass from the police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims, according to the documents and interviews with victims.”
But in paragraph 13, commenting on a statement of Fr. Lombardi (the Vatican spokesman) that Church law does not prohibit anyone from reporting cases of abuse to civil authorities, Goodstein writes, “He did not address why that had never happened in this case.” Did she forget, or did her editors not read, what she wrote in paragraph nine about Murphy getting “a pass from the police and prosecutors”? By her own account it seems clear that criminal authorities had been notified, most probably by the victims and their families.
Goodstein’s account bounces back and forth as if there were not some 20 plus years intervening between reports in the 1960 and 70’s to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local police, and Archbishop Weakland’s appeal for help to the Vatican in 1996. Why? Because the point of the article is not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time. I, for one, looking back at this report agree that Fr. Murphy deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior, which would normally have resulted from a canonical trial.
The point of Goodstein’s article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time. She uses the technique of repeating the many escalating charges and accusations from various sources (not least from her own newspaper), and tries to use these “newly unearthed files” as the basis for accusing the pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others.
It seems to me, on the other hand, that we owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the Church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of minors. These efforts began when the Pope served as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and continued after he was elected Pope. That the Times has published a series of articles in which the important contribution he has made – especially in the development and implementation of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, the Motu proprio issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001 – is ignored, seems to me to warrant the charge of lack of fairness which should be the hallmark of any reputable newspaper.
Let me tell you what I think a fair reading of the Milwaukee case would seem to indicate. The reasons why church and civil authorities took no action in the 1960’s and 70’s is apparently not contained in these “newly emerged files.” Nor does the Times seem interested in finding out why. But what does emerge is this: after almost 20 years as Archbishop, Weakland wrote to the Congregation asking for help in dealing with this terrible case of serial abuse. The Congregation approved his decision to undertake a canonical trial, since the case involved solicitation in confession – one of the graviora delicta (most grave crimes) for which the Congregation had responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action.
Only when it learned that Murphy was dying did the Congregation suggest to Weakland that the canonical trial be suspended, since it would involve a lengthy process of taking testimony from a number of deaf victims from prior decades, as well as from the accused priest. Instead it proposed measures to ensure that appropriate restrictions on his ministry be taken. Goodstein infers that this action implies “leniency” toward a priest guilty of heinous crimes. My interpretation would be that the Congregation realized that the complex canonical process would be useless if the priest were dying. Indeed, I have recently received an unsolicited letter from the judicial vicar who was presiding judge in the canonical trial telling me that he never received any communication about suspending the trial, and would not have agreed to it. But Fr. Murphy had died in the meantime. As a believer, I have no doubt that Murphy will face the One who judges both the living and the dead.
Goodstein also refers to what she calls “other accusations” about the reassignment of a priest who had previously abused a child/children in another diocese by the Archdiocese of Munich. But the Archdiocese has repeatedly explained that the responsible Vicar General, Mons. Gruber, admitted his mistake in making that assignment. It is anachronistic for Goodstein and the Times to imply that the knowledge about sexual abuse that we have in 2010 should have somehow been intuited by those in authority in 1980. It is not difficult for me to think that Professor Ratzinger, appointed as Archbishop of Munich in 1977, would have done as most new bishops do: allow those already in place in an administration of 400 or 500 people to do the jobs assigned to them.
As I look back on my own personal history as a priest and bishop, I can say that in 1980 I had never heard of any accusation of such sexual abuse by a priest. It was only in 1985, as an Auxiliary Bishop attending a meeting of our U.S. Bishops’ Conference where data on this matter was presented, that I became aware of some of the issues. In 1986, when I was appointed Archbishop in Portland, I began to deal personally with accusations of the crime of sexual abuse, and although my “learning curve” was rapid, it was also limited by the particular cases called to my attention.
Here are a few things I have learned since that time: many child victims are reluctant to report incidents of sexual abuse by clergy. When they come forward as adults, the most frequent reason they give is not to ask for punishment of the priest, but to make the bishop and personnel director aware so that other children can be spared the trauma that they have experienced.
In dealing with priests, I learned that many priests, when confronted with accusations from the past, spontaneously admitted their guilt. On the other hand, I also learned that denial is not uncommon. I have found that even programs of residential therapy have not succeeded in breaking through such denial in some cases. Even professional therapists did not arrive at a clear diagnosis in some of these cases; often their recommendations were too vague to be helpful. On the other hand, therapists have been very helpful to victims in dealing with the long-range effects of their childhood abuse. In both Portland and San Francisco where I dealt with issues of sexual abuse, the dioceses always made funds available (often through diocesan insurance coverage) for therapy to victims of sexual abuse.
From the point of view of ecclesiastical procedures, the explosion of the sexual abuse question in the United States led to the adoption, at a meeting of the Bishops’ Conference in Dallas in 2002, of a “Charter for the Protection of Minors from Sexual Abuse.” This Charter provides for uniform guidelines on reporting sexual abuse, on structures of accountability (Boards involving clergy, religious and laity, including experts), reports to a national Board, and education programs for parishes and schools in raising awareness and prevention of sexual abuse of children. In a number of other countries similar programs have been adopted by Church authorities: one of the first was adopted by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in response to the Nolan Report made by a high-level commission of independent experts in 2001.
It was only in 2001, with the publication of Pope John Paul II’s Motu proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (SST), that responsibility for guiding the Catholic Church’s response to the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clerics was assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This papal document was prepared for Pope John Paul II under the guidance of Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Contrary to some media reports, SST did not remove the local bishop’s responsibility for acting in cases of reported sexual abuse of minors by clerics. Nor was it, as some have theorized, part of a plot from on high to interfere with civil jurisdiction in such cases. Instead, SST directs bishops to report credible allegations of abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is able to provide a service to the bishops to ensure that cases are handled properly, in accord with applicable ecclesiastical law.
Here are some of the advances made by this new Church legislation (SST). It has allowed for a streamlined administrative process in arriving at a judgment, thus reserving the more formal process of a canonical trial to more complex cases. This has been of particular advantage in missionary and small dioceses that do not have a strong complement of well-trained canon lawyers. It provides for erecting inter-diocesan tribunals to assist small dioceses. The Congregation has faculties allowing it derogate from the prescription of a crime (statute of limitations) in order to permit justice to be done even for “historical” cases. Moreover, SST has amended canon law in cases of sexual abuse to adjust the age of a minor to 18 to correspond with the civil law in many countries today. It provides a point of reference for bishops and religious superiors to obtain uniform advice about handling priests’ cases. Perhaps most of all, it has designated cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics as graviora delicta: most grave crimes, like the crimes against the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance perennially assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This in itself has shown the seriousness with which today’s Church undertakes its responsibility to assist bishops and religious superiors to prevent these crimes from happening in the future, and to punish them when they happen. Here is a legacy of Pope Benedict that greatly facilitates the work of the Congregation which I now have the privilege to lead, to the benefit of the entire Church.
After the Dallas Charter in 2002, I was appointed (at the time as Archbishop of San Francisco) to a team of four bishops to seek approval of the Holy See for the “Essential Norms” that the American Bishops developed to allow us to deal with abuse questions. Because these norms intersected with existing canon law, they required approval before being implemented as particular law for our country. Under the chairmanship of Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and currently President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, our team worked with Vatican canonical experts at several meetings. We found in Cardinal Ratzinger, and in the experts he assigned to meet with us, a sympathetic understanding of the problems we faced as American bishops. Largely through his guidance we were able to bring our work to a successful conclusion.
The Times editorial wonders “how Vatican officials did not draw the lessons of the grueling scandal in the United States, where more than 700 priests were dismissed over a three-year period.” I can assure the Times that the Vatican in reality did not then and does not now ignore those lessons. But the Times editorial goes on to show the usual bias: “But then we read Laurie Goodstein’s disturbing report . . .about how the pope, while he was still a cardinal, was personally warned about a priest … But church leaders chose to protect the church instead of children. The report illuminated the kind of behavior the church was willing to excuse to avoid scandal.” Excuse me, editors. Even the Goodstein article, based on “newly unearthed files,” places the words about protecting the Church from scandal on the lips of Archbishop Weakland, not the pope. It is just this kind of anachronistic conflation that I think warrants my accusation that the Times, in rushing to a guilty verdict, lacks fairness in its coverage of Pope Benedict.
As a full-time member of the Roman Curia, the governing structure that carries out the Holy See’s tasks, I do not have time to deal with the Times’s subsequent almost daily articles by Rachel Donadio and others, much less with Maureen Dowd’s silly parroting of Goodstein’s “disturbing report.” But about a man with and for whom I have the privilege of working, as his “successor” Prefect, a pope whose encyclicals on love and hope and economic virtue have both surprised us and made us think, whose weekly catecheses and Holy Week homilies inspire us, and yes, whose pro-active work to help the Church deal effectively with the sexual abuse of minors continues to enable us today, I ask the Times to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on.
Vatican Official Defends Pope’s Handling of Case
By RACHEL DONADIO
Published: March 31, 2010
VATICAN CITY — A top Vatican official issued a detailed defense of Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of sexual abuse cases and extensively criticized The New York Times’s coverage, both in its news and editorial pages, as unfair to the pope and the church.
In a rare interview and a 2,400-word statement posted Wednesday on the Vatican Web site, the official, Cardinal William J. Levada, an American who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, praised Pope Benedict for vigorously investigating and prosecuting sexual abuse cases. He said The Times’s coverage had been “deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness.”
Cardinal Levada singled out several Times reporters and columnists for criticism, focusing particularly on an article describing failed efforts by Wisconsin church officials to persuade the Vatican to defrock a priest who had abused as many as 200 deaf boys from 1950 to 1974. The pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office when the case was referred there, in 1996.
He said the article wrongly “attributed the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of diocesan decisions at the time.” On Wednesday, the archbishop of Milwaukee said the pope should not be held responsible for mistakes that were made in Wisconsin, according to The Associated Press.
The Times article drew on documents obtained from lawyers suing the church that showed that Vatican officials had at first ordered a secret canonical trial, then asked the archdiocese to suspend it after the priest pleaded for leniency to Cardinal Ratzinger. Wisconsin church officials protested the suspension, but followed it. The priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, died a few months later.
News coverage of the abuse has clearly touched a nerve in the Vatican. As the church grapples with abuse cases that have come to light in several European countries, Benedict has come under scrutiny for how he and his subordinates handled sexual abuse allegations against priests while he served as an archbishop in Germany as well as when he was the Vatican’s top doctrinal enforcer.
In 1980, when the pope was archbishop of Munich and Freising, he approved the transfer of a priest who had abused boys to therapy and was copied in on a memo saying that the priest had been allowed to resume pastoral duties shortly after his therapy began. The priest was later convicted of molesting other boys.
“This is different, because it’s the pope and because it’s a pope who is most self evidently beyond accusation, particularly in this area,” said a senior Vatican official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly.
Cardinal Levada said he believed that “the evidence is clear” that Father Murphy represented an “egregious case” and deserved to be defrocked.
But he also said he was not second-guessing the decision to suspend the trial. He said a canonical trial would be “useless if the priest were dying.” “Have you ever been to a trial? Do you know how long they take?” he said. “If the man had had a miraculous recovery and doctors said he’d live another 10 years, I’m sure a letter would say fine, ‘Start the trial.’ ”
Sitting in a receiving room at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with a view of Saint Peter’s out the window and an oil portrait of Cardinal Ratzinger on the wall, Cardinal Levada expressed pain at the case of Father Murphy.
“I think the evidence is clear from the documents that he was a serial abuser of children, helpless children often times, he had no respect for the sacrament of confession, even using that to accomplish his abuse,” he said. “It’s one of the saddest and the most egregious cases I’ve seen.”
At that point a canon lawyer who sat in on the interview but declined to speak on the record intervened about the nuances of the unfinished trial, effectively deflecting questions about why it had been suspended.
Cardinal Levada said that although Father Murphy never faced judgment in a criminal or canonical court, the priest had not evaded it altogether.
“As a believer,” he wrote in his statement, “I have no doubt that Murphy will face the One who judges both the living and the dead.”
Cardinal Levada said Benedict had played a “very significant role” as the “architect” of the Vatican’s 2001 norms that sent sexual abuse cases directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and streamlined procedures for bishops to report sexual abuse cases. Those norms ushered in a flood of abuse trials, many of which are still unresolved.
In a related letter in 2001, the future pope reminded bishops to adhere to secrecy in ecclesiastical trials, which caused some confusion about whether clerics should report abuse to the civil authorities. In recent weeks, Benedict and the Vatican have emphasized that the clergy should report evidence of crimes to the civil authorities.
“He was prefect when the church put into place a very important standard and practice for helping bishops deal with these cases,” said Cardinal Levada.
In light of media reports that have questioned what Benedict knew about abuse cases, Cardinal Levada said, “Anyone can say, ‘Why didn’t you do this?’ ‘You could have done this better.’ That’s part of life, but certainly it’s not the case to say that he is deficient,” Cardinal Levada said. “If anything, he was the architect of this step forward in the church and I think he deserves his credit.”
Benedict named Cardinal Levada, a theologian, a former archbishop of Portland and San Francisco, and a former chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to succeed him as prefect after he became pope in 2005.
A full 80 percent of the abuse cases to come through the congregation in the past decade are from the United States, according to the head of the internal tribunal that handles abuse cases, Msgr. Charles Scicluna.
Cardinal Levada said that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had a staff of about 45 and devoted about a third of its time to disciplinary issues.
“I would say it’s an increasing amount of the work of the congregation,” he said, adding that he anticipated having to expand its staff.
He said it should not be seen as leniency that some 60 percent of the abuse cases that the congregation had considered since 2001 did not result in trials. In cases of “moral certitude” trials aren’t necessary, he said, and other disciplinary measures can be taken, while murkier cases requiring more evidence might require trials.
“A canonical trial is an instrument appropriately used, but it would not be the normal procedure,” he said.
The senior Vatican official said that the pope himself was “serene” in the face of news reports but probably upset on behalf of Catholics. “I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be troubled that the faithful are troubled,” he said.
Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting.
A version of this article appeared in print on April 1, 2010, on page A6 of the New York edition.