Infallible papal innocence (no matter what)
The complex paper trails are measured now in many tens of thousands of cases spread over half a century and across five continents. It would be astonishing if there were not at least a handful of documents leading back to the powerful orthodoxy watchdog, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as Benedict once was. From 1982 until 2005 he was responsible in large measure for the disciplining of the clergy. His failure to answer two letters in the late 1990s from Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee relating to an abusive priest 20 years after his crimes appears substantive enough. But the Vatican has responded with impressive casuistry as to the facts, and vehement indignation as to the insinuations, and will continue to do so with this or any other allegation brought against Benedict.
The Vatican and Benedict know, moreover, that there have been much worse cases of recent papal culpability in the matter of paedophile priest cover-ups. It is just eight years since Pope John Paul II first declined to investigate a priest called Father Marcial Maciel. Maciel founded an order known as the Legionaries of Christ and systematically engaged in sexual abuse of minors for 40 years. Nine former members of his order went public with accusations in 1997. Two investigators claim that Cardinal Ratzinger tried to have Maciel brought to book but he was allegedly overruled on John Paul’s orders. John Paul claimed that he had “discerned” that Maciel was innocent. To his credit, and not before time, it was Ratzinger who in January 2005 (barely three months before John Paul’s death) had Maciel, then 84, relieved of his priesthood. But Maciel, who died in 2008, was never referred to any country’s criminal justice system. Benedict has since formally apologised to Maciel’s victims.
No matter what the resulting damage. Which amid perhaps the worst crisis since the Reformation, Cornwell suggests, is likely to be the Catholic church’s fragmentation.
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