On October 24, 1999, the Vatican's top officials met at the Congregation for the Clergy in Piazza Pio XII in Rome. The cardinal prefects of the relevant congregations and their deputy archbishops, about fifteen people, attended. I was there to give a lecture on pedophilia. Before my talk, a young moral theologian urged that U.S. bishops be prevented from making a "summary judgment" of priests suspected of abuse.
Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, had earlier read the letter from an American bishop to a priest: "You are suspected of abuse, so you must leave your home immediately; next month you will stop receiving your salary; in other words: you are fired".
But then Cardinal Ratzinger took the floor; he praised the young professor for his work, but said that his opinion was completely different. Of course legal principles had to be respected, but the bishops also had to be understood. That abuse by priests is such a heinous crime and causes such terrible suffering to the victims that it must be dealt with decisively, and the bishops often have the impression that Rome slows everything down and ties their hands. The participants were perplexed; in the afternoon a heated controversy developed in his absence.
Two years later, Cardinal Ratzinger succeeded in getting Pope John Paul II to remove responsibility for the abuses from the Congregation for the Clergy and assign it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos reacted aggrieved.
At the beginning of 2002 I met with Cardinal Ratzinger. I told him that the press was satisfied that the Pope was dealing with this matter personally, but that in my opinion it was absolutely necessary for him to talk to international experts, to invite them to the Vatican. He listened attentively and reacted immediately: "Why don't you take care of that? I had not thought about that possibility and I asked him, "Are you sure you want to do it?". He replied, "Yes, I am."
I contacted the leading German experts; I attended international congresses, spoke to the world's most renowned scientists and coordinated everything with Monsignor Scicluna of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Ratzinger insisted that he also wanted the victims' point of view to be mentioned and gave me a letter from the child psychiatrist Jörg Fegert, who had contacted him and whom I also invited.
Thus the first Vatican Congress on Abuse was held at the Apostolic Palace from April 2 to 5, 2003; all the institutions of the Curia concerned were present; Cardinal Ratzinger personally "motivated" those who had hesitated.
International experts - not all of them Catholic - advocated that the perpetrators should be controlled, but not simply thrown out; otherwise, having no social perspective, they would be a further danger to society. At a dinner, some experts tried to convince Ratzinger of this idea; but he disagreed: since abuse was such a terrible thing, the perpetrators could not simply be allowed to continue working as priests.
In 2005, when John Paul II was about to die, Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of formulating the texts for the Stations of the Cross; at the ninth station he pronounced those words: "How much filth in the Church and among those who, by their priesthood, should be completely dedicated to him! Four weeks later, he was Pope.
He immediately expelled the criminal founder of the "Legionaries of Christ"; he addressed the victims for the first time as Pope on several occasions, which deeply moved some; he wrote to Catholics in Ireland that it was a scandalous crime not to have done what should have been done because of concern for the reputation of the Church.
In 2010, a high-ranking Church official who had falsely accused a priest told me that he could not recant because he had to look after the good reputation of his institution. I was horrified and, when the media asked me about this case, I turned to Pope Benedict. The answer came quickly: "Pope Benedict sends you a message: Speak up, you must tell the truth!
Since 1999, therefore, I had experienced Joseph Ratzinger's firmness against abuse; but what about before that? I was also curious to know what the Munich report said. Perhaps there were wrong decisions, dilettantism, failures. After the press conference, some journalists criticized the annoying theatricality in presenting the report, which did not distinguish between facts, assumptions and moral judgments. Only one point was made clear: that Ratzinger had been convincingly shown to have told a lie about his presence at a certain meeting; moreover, one of his answers, which trivialized exhibitionism, was quoted. Subsequent judgments were predictable, even before the text was known.
However, reading the parts of the report that referred to Ratzinger revealed two surprises: after meticulous investigation by experts in the four cases of which he was accused, there was not a single solid piece of evidence that he had any knowledge of the history of abuse. The only "proof" was the testimony of two dubious witnesses on one case, who by hearsay now claimed the opposite of what they had said years before.
The minutes of the above-mentioned meeting merely stated that it had been decided that a priest who was going to Munich for psychotherapy could live in a parish. Nothing about abuse, nothing about the pastoral assignment. But, above all, I was surprised that in some of the answers it was clear that this was not Benedict's language. "His" comments on exhibitionism sounded like something out of a canon law seminar; here, they were embarrassingly trivial.
It is now clear what the reason was. At 94 years of age, he has not been able to review the thousands of pages of documents himself. His collaborators did, and they made mistakes. Contrary to his response that he had not attended a meeting 42 years ago, he had been present. In addition, the law firm authoring the report displayed a strange style of questioning, with rhetorical, suggestive questions or a mixture of accusation and judgment.
In this situation, anyone would have sought legal advice, as Pope Benedict apparently did. Moreover, the firm's awkward questions left him no chance to answer about his personal responsibility. He has announced that he wishes to comment on this, and how the strange answers came about. It is to be hoped that this is really a text from him: one must have the fairness to wait for this statement.
One is left with the feeling that an elder who, among other things, was a pioneer on the subject of abuse, is being sensationally pilloried instead of finally investigating the decisive questions: why has no Church official in Germany openly admitted his personal guilt and voluntarily resigned?
Already in 2010, Pope Benedict said: "The first concern must be for the victims. How can we make reparation [...] with material, psychological and spiritual help? So why are victims still not helped to organize themselves in a truly independent way, and why are they not adequately compensated on an individual basis? Why is one report after another published without the consequences being drawn?