Catholic Sex Abuse Scandals in Europe

BOB ABERNETHY (anchor): The Vatican faces growing anger over a burgeoning sex abuse scandal in Europe. New allegations of abuse by priests in Ireland and Germany are raising questions about the culpability of church leaders, including Pope Benedict. Joining us to talk about this is David Gibson.  He’s a Vatican expert who writes a column for the online newspaper Politics Daily.  He’s also the author of a biography of the pope called The Rule of Benedict.

David, welcome. Take us back, if you would, 30 years ago to the time when the man who is now pope was the Archbishop in Munich in Germany. What happened?

DAVID GIBSON (Author, The Rule of Benedict): Well, Bob, this case really started, like so many of these cases from that era started, where a priest in another diocese who had been known to abuse children was sent for therapy. He went to a psychiatrist in Munich, and Cardinal Ratzinger, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger signed off on that transfer. Subsequently, the Vatican says, and the Archdiocese of Munich says, a lower-level official in Munich sent that abusive priest, Father Peter Hullermann, to a parish in Munich where he subsequently abused other children and was eventually convicted of a crime. So the question now is really what did Benedict know and when did he know it? Did he sign off on this priest going to this other parish or did he not?

ABERNETHY: Now, it’s being said at the Vatican that those times were different, the rules may have been different, and in any event what happened or didn’t happen is being blown way out of proportion. What do you think?

GIBSON: Well, there is that claim. They’re saying, look, this is just wildly exaggerated. Benedict did not know about the reassignment of that priest. Others would say, well, if it wasn’t a sin of commission it was a sin of omission, that as the Archbishop of Munich, assigning priests and especially keeping track of an abuser is one of his main tasks. But also, Bob, this didn’t happen in isolation. This is coming in the midst of a huge, perfect storm of scandals sweeping across Europe from Ireland, as we’ve seen so recently, now to the Netherlands to Germany to Austria and now reaching even to the Vatican. So, again, this is not something that just is a one-off kind of scandal, and it also comes in the wake of the American crisis, which since 2002 we’ve been dealing with.

ABERNETHY: And what are the consequences, then, for the church in Europe and for Benedict himself?

GIBSON: Well, I think there are really two ways that this really hurts the pope. Look, he’s not going to resign from this unless something dramatic and drastic happens, and I don’t expect that, anticipate that. Popes don’t resign, but also popes cannot command any more, as they say, they must convince. He must be able to get a willing audience to listen to him as he preaches the Gospel and tries to carry out his priority, his agenda of re-Christianizing Christendom, that is, Europe. That’s really his main goal. So if his credibility is undermined by this, people are not going to listen to him. The second point I’d make is that as these scandals are emerging, these revelations are coming out in Europe, much as they did in the United States, you’re going to have great calls for accountability of bishops who covered up for abusers or moved them around to other parishes. If the pope is seen as culpable in the same way, how is he going to tell these other bishops that they in fact must step down or accept some kind of penalty?

ABERNETHY: David Gibson, many thanks.