Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

The effort to implicate the Pope

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 12, 2010

Count on the London Times to offer the most sensational coverage of a news story involving the Catholic Church. The headline on today's report by Richard Owen screams: 

Pope knew priest was paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry

That's grossly misleading, downright irresponsible. The reporter runs ahead of his evidence-- standard procedure for a Times journalist-- but even Richard Owen does not allege anything to justify the headline.

Here's what we know: While the Pope was Archbishop of Munich, a priest there was accused of sexual abuse. He was pulled out of ministry and sent off for counseling. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger was involved in the decision to remove the priest from his parish assignment-- got that? remove him. [Editor's note: The preceding sentences are not accurate. Actually the facts provide an even stronger defense of the Pontiff. See the update below. ] He also approved a decision to house the priest in a rectory while he was undergoing counseling. We don't know, at this point, whether the priest could have been sent to a residential facility, to take him out of circulation entirely. That might have been a more prudent move. We don't know whether he was kept under close observation. But we do know that he was not involved in active ministry. 

Then the vicar general of the Munich archdiocese made the decision to let the accused priest help out at a parish. That vicar general, Msgr. Gerhard Gruber, says that he made that decision on his own, without consulting the cardinal. The future Pope never knew about it, he testifies. Several years later, long after Cardinal Ratzinger had moved to a new assignment at the Vatican, the priest was again accused of sexual abuse.  

A grievous mistake was made in this case; that much is clear now, and the vicar general has sorrowfully taken responsibility for the error. Could you say that the future Pontiff should have been more vigilant? Perhaps. But to suggest that he made the decision to put a pedophile back in circulation is an outrageous distortion of the facts. The AP story carries a very different headline:

Pope's former diocese admits error over priest

 That's not so eye-catching. But the headline fits the facts. 


After learning more about this case, I realize that the analysis above is not quite accurate, and the effort to implicate the Pope is even more far-fetched than I had originally thought. The accused was not a priest of the Munich archdiocese, but a priest from the Diocese of Essen, who had been sent to a facility in Munich for counseling. So the then-Cardinal Ratzinger was not responsible for his treatment; his only connection with the case was his decision to let the priest stay in a rectory in the Munich archdiocese while he was undergoing treatment there. There is no evidence that the Pope was aware the accused priest was an accused pedophile; he was evidently informed only that the priest had been guilty of sexual improprieties, and probably concluded that he was engaged in homosexual activities with young men.  

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Mar. 14, 2010 5:22 PM ET USA

    Once again, another example of the easy way out is to jump to conclusions wihout the facts - without the full truth. We have a responsibility to be truthful but we also have a responsibility about developing informed opinions and not "jumping" to conclusions. The difficulty is, given examples such as this, how can one place a high level of trust in the information from the secular media? Please keep up the work you are doing. You are in our prayers.

  • Posted by: jbryant_132832 - Mar. 13, 2010 6:04 AM ET USA

    This reminds me of the vitriol about being a Nazi that was aimed at Benedict after his election. This is as much spiritual as temporal. We need to pray as never before for the Holy Father.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 12, 2010 11:23 PM ET USA

    But it's the London Times.

  • Posted by: BLRallo3059 - Mar. 12, 2010 8:21 PM ET USA

    New York Times headline on the same subject: "Church Abuse Scandal in Germany Edges Closer to Pope." Not quite as inflammatory but still outrageous.