Let’s get specific. What exactly DID Pope Benedict do about the committing and concealing of child sex crimes in the church? LA Times writer Mitchell Lansberg did a good job of summarizing the case made by Benedict’s defenders, who say that he:
1. “essentially banished an influential Mexican priest, Father Marcial Maciel, who had long been suspected of sexually abusing seminarians and boys in his care and had fathered at least three children”
2. “ordered investigations into sexual abuse and issued guidelines in 2010 that made it easier to punish abusive priests”
3. “spoke of the ‘deep shame’ and ‘humiliation’ the scandal had brought on the Catholic Church. He apologized to victims”
Now, let’s talk about these points in greater detail.
1. To call say that Benedict “banished” Fr. Maciel is over-the-top. Fr. Maciel was actually “invited to retire from public ministry” by Benedict following an investigation into his crimes in 2006. (Serious and credible allegations against Maciel by several victims were first made in the late 1990s.) Maciel was not forced to apologize, and neither he nor his supervisors were told to help in any sort of criminal investigations. It’s estimated that there are around 37,000 predator priests worldwide. By tepidly slapping Maciel’s hand after considerable publicity and pressure, Benedict took belated action one predator priest. We hardly think that’s worth much praise.
2. In 2010, Benedict issued guidelines about the Vatican’s process with priests accused of sex abuse crimes. But this was largely a PR move that didn’t actually do anything to make punishments for predator priests more frequent, speedy or severe. The guidelines did virtually nothing to prevent abuse in the first place. They didn’t mandate that knowledge or suspicions of child sex crimes be reported to secular authorities. The guidelines also ignored the problem of complicit bishops and other officials. (We’ve said repeatedly that while it’s important to punish predators, this crisis won’t go away until those who keep predators concealed are punished.) Finally, across the globe and over two decades, we’ve seen church abuse guidelines – at all levels – repeatedly broken by church officials. Why? Because no one is ever punished for violating them. So they’re essentially meaningless.
3. It’s incredibly easy to speak about shame and humiliation, and it’s easy to apologize, especially when you’re not in a room with victims themselves. (Benedict met with only a handful of carefully chosen victims in carefully choreographed settings.) But for the most part, the Pope spurned requests by victims and victims’ groups to meet with them, and while he may have said the words, he didn’t mean them enough to do anything substantive to protect the vulnerable or heal the wounded.
At the end of the day, facing massive public outrage, Benedict sometimes gave a few speeches and made a few gestures. There was fluff but no substance. There’s really not much at all in Benedict’s record on child sex abuse that can be defended.