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Don't blame Benedict XVI for the sex-abuse scandal

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 11, 2013

Among the many inaccurate stories that have circulated in the wake of Pope Benedict’s resignation, one in particular should be nipped in the bud. This pontificate has not been scarred by a failure to address the sex-abuse scandal. The claim that Pope Benedict ignored sexual abuse is a calumny, perpetuated by people who have their own anti-Catholic axes to grind or, perhaps, their own failings to explain away.

Today’s New York Times account of the papal resignation advances the now-familiar claim: “Benedict’s tenure was entangled in growing sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church that crept ever closer to the Vatican itself.” Dozens of other media outlets, taking their cues from the Times, have made similar assessments—usually in much less subtle terms. (In fact an earlier version of the Times story was far more heavy-handed.)

The campaign to pin the blame for the sex-abuse scandal on Benedict XVI began long ago, and reached a crescendo in July 2010 when the New York Times published a lengthy indictment of the Pope’s handling of the crisis, which I described at the time as “an editorial jihad against this pontificate.” That Times report was horribly inaccurate in 2010. And since that time a great deal of new evidence has emerged to show how often Pope Benedict—and even before he ascended Peter’s throne, Cardinal Ratzinger—has led the charge to purge the Church of what he rightly termed the “filth” of sexual abuse. So why does this campaign continue?

Some diocesan officials who were guilty of shuffling predatory priests and covering up the evidence would like to create the illusion that they were unable to take effective disciplinary action, because their hands were tied by Rome. Those self-serving complaints play into the hands of anti-Catholics who would be delighted to trace the problem to the Vatican, and especially to the current Pontiff. But anyone who examines the evidence objectively will conclude that the bishops themselves were at fault, for failing to take the action that canon law clearly allowed—no, required—them to take. And while there were some Vatican officials who aided and abetted the cover-up , Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict was not one of them.

The sex-abuse scandal has indeed been the most painful problem facing the Church during this pontificate. But the problem arose many years earlier. The clean-up effort began in earnest in 2001, when then-Cardinal Ratzinger gained control of the Vatican’s disciplinary response, and it accelerated when he was elected Pontiff. As I wrote in 2010, in response to that attack by the New York Times “Pope Benedict was the solution, not part of the problem.”

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