Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pope cannot claim ignorance of child sex abuse

By Jennifer O’Connell

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t feel much like celebrating the feast day of St Patrick last week. I’ve been increasingly dubious of late about the value of the pious Briton’s legacy to this damp little island.

Last week, as I listened to Monsignor Maurice Dooley put forward his defence of Cardinal Sean Brady’s failure to act for more than 20 years on the information that Brendan Smyth was an abuser - he was only following the Church’s orders, you see - I felt that we would almost certainly have been better off if Patrick, or Palladius, had stayed home in Cumbria in 428, or whenever it was, and not bothered us with this whole Christianity nonsense.

As the furore over his role in the Smyth affair gained intensity last week, Brady announced that he would resign only if asked by the ‘‘Holy Father himself’’.

You could rightly accuse Brady of a lot of things, but you couldn’t call him a fool. He knows there is no possibility, whatsoever, of Pope Benedict XVI calling for his resignation. And that’s because a number of eerily similar questions hang over the former Archbishop Ratzinger’s tenure in Munich and Freising.

Last weekend, at the same time the Catholic Church in Ireland was obdurately deflecting calls for Brady’s resignation, Pope Benedict’s former archdiocese admitted that a paedophile priest had been reinstated to a Catholic parish in Munich while Ratzinger was Archbishop.

Peter H, as he’s being called, first came to the attention of the diocese in Essen after he orally raped an 11-yearold. Church seniors sent him to Munich for therapy.

In 1980, Joseph Ratzinger - now better known as his Holiness the Pope - was one of those who decided to grant him accommodation in a parsonage.

The priest was soon back out in the community, with unfettered access to children.

Unsurprisingly, he abused again; received a suspended sentence in 1986; and returned to his work unencumbered by any form of monitoring or restriction.

A mere ten days ago, he was scheduled to attend a tourism trade show in Berlin and take part in a panel discussion - though he cancelled at the last moment.

The Pope claims he had absolutely nothing to do with Peter H’s case, and played no part in the decision to allow him to return to his ministry. In fact, as the German magazine Der Spiegel pointed out last week, far from being thrown into shock and disarray by the allegations of sex abuse among his flock in Ireland, the United States and now Germany, few people understand exactly what’s been going on in the Catholic Church over the past 30 or 40 years better than Joseph Ratzinger.

Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formally known as the Inquisition, a role which meant that reported cases of abuse automatically landed on his desk.

His own older brother, the 86-year-old, Georg, was for many years head of the world-famous Regensburger Domspatzen choir, which has been the source of complaints from some 15 former choirboys to date.

Many of the boys in his choir lived in the boarding school at Etterzhausen, which was described as a ‘‘planet of horrors’’ by one of its former pupils to Der Speigel last week, a place where naked beatings and anal rape were facts of life.

‘‘Tortures included beatings with willow branches on the fingertips or the backside, punches to the head, pulling pupils up by their hair and hitting them with books. It didn’t take long to beat the childhood right out of us; I often felt like I was on the verge of dying," the pupil said.

Georg Ratzinger, the Pope’s big brother, who admits to have used corporal punishment against a number of boys himself, employed a defence for his failure to act to protect these children that is now become wearingly familiar.

‘‘When we were on concert tours, pupils would tell me about what life had been like for them at Etterzhausen. But their stories didn’t strike me as anything that merited my official attention."

The director and composer Franz Wittenbrink, who lived in the Regensburg boarding school of the choir until 1967, finds it baffling that Ratzinger can claim ignorance of what went on there.

He described the school’s ‘‘elaborate system of sadistic punishments combined with sexual lust’’ and said he found it ‘‘inexplicable that . . .Georg Ratzinger. . . apparently knew nothing about it."

Georg Ratzinger responded by telling the Vatican’s newspaper that the abuse accusations reflected ‘‘a certain animosity toward the church’’. Brady and his loyal band of followers, who include the complacent Msgr Dooley, might have written Ratzinger elder’s script for him.

Brady knew from 1975 that Smyth was a paedophile. He did nothing with this information, bar passing it onto his superiors.

‘‘Thirty-five years ago we were in a different world. We had no guidance, we were in uncharted territory," he said last week.

In his interview on RTE Radio, Msgr Dooley added his view that Brady ‘‘was working in camera’’; ‘‘within church law’’. Asked whether it would have been better if Brady had gone to the police, Dooley said he didn’t think so. And there’s the nub of the issue, as far as the Church is concerned, its laws takes precedence over the laws of the state.

In Germany, following a series of articles in Der Spiegel highlighting the extent of the abuse problem there - and Georg Ratzinger’s role in it - Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller from Regensburg, the home of Etterzhausen, compared today’s ‘‘anti-Catholic media campaigns against celibacy and Catholic sexual morals’’ to the ‘‘infamous speech by the master of sedition held in Berlin’s Deutschlandhalle in 1937’’ - a reference to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ attack on the Church.

I wasn’t going to mention the war, but since they’ve done so first, it seems fair enough to remind the Pope - and indeed Cardinal Brady - that the defence of ‘only following orders’ didn’t wash in his home country 65 years ago, and it shouldn’t be allowed to wash now.

Now is the time for the Church to take action, and to prove it is no longer an establishment that knowingly shelters criminals. Brady’s resignation should be the first step in that process.


This column first appeared in The Sunday Business Post on March 21, 2010