Accolades for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI are not well received by clergy abuse survivors.

(For Immediate Release January 4, 2023) 

For the next few days, we will continue to hear and read wonderful adjectives and eulogies about the life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Many admirers have praised his handling of the clergy sex abuse epidemic, but we see things differently. On this traumatic issue, Pope Benedict XVI leaves a legacy of failure.

Hailing Pope Benedict as a reformer on clergy sex abuse is flat-out wrong. While many in the flock mourn his loss, they also anesthetize themselves more to the dark reality of sexual abuse by the clergy in both past and present cases.

As both Cardinal Ratzinger and later Pope, Benedict squandered opportunities to make a difference for victims and instead solidified the protection of abusers. Prior to becoming Pope, he was a prominent player on the Vatican stage for a quarter of a century, having led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Roman Curia's most important dicastery, and later working as the Dean of the College of Cardinals from 2002 until his election as Pope.

As Pope, Benedict promoted a roster of men who protected the Church at the expense of children. From Cardinal Jean Pierre Bernard Ricard, who recently admitted abusing a 14 year old girl in the 1990s, to men like Cardinal Timothy Dolan – who kept priests like Msgr. John Paddock, accused at least 12 times of abuse, in positions of power over children – and Cardinal Donald Wuerl – who repeatedly shuffled and protected abusive priests while leading the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

In our view, when the now defrocked ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's disclosure of abuse put another black eye on Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, we can not help but think of how much Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger knew, yet did nothing while heading up the CDF. We are reminded of the stance he took when he became the supreme pontiff in 2005, around the time when more information about McCarrick surfaced. To McCarrick’s benefit, Benedict ultimately decided against a canonical trial or sanction, in part because the Vatican’s in-house legal code did not provide ways to prosecute old cases of priests who slept with young men. “Instead, the decision was made to appeal to McCarrick’s conscience and ecclesial spirit by indicating to him that he should maintain a lower profile and minimize travel for the good of the church.”

As Pope, Benedict reopened an investigation into Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, an influential religious order and John Paul II's mentee, and subsequently removed him from ministry. However, it is hard for us to imagine why he did not act while overseeing the CDF instead of waiting until he became the supreme pontiff.

When forced, the Church hierarchy occasionally suspends proven, admitted, and "credibly accused" child and adult predators. However, only in a few cases has the hierarchy ever disciplined a corrupt bishop. It is even more disturbing when the hierarchy honors one of its own with a dismal track record on the Church's most devastating scandal in modern times. Frontline trauma professionals have a duty to do their very best for those with emergent needs. That should be the case for Catholic officials as well, especially in an institution with a horrifying history of committing, ignoring, and concealing heinous child sex crimes. 

Church officials can do little to alleviate the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of deeply wounded men, women, and children who have been sexually abused by clergy. But the Catholic hierarchy CAN avoid rubbing salt into their wounds by heralding a pontiff who presided over many, well-documented clergy sex crimes and cover-ups.

In his more than 25 years as the world's most influential religious figure, Pope Benedict XVI fell short in protecting children and adults around the world. He used his unparalleled knowledge of Church doctrine and theology on other critical issues repeatedly and effectively. Still, he virtually ignored the burning problem of clergy sexual abuse during his tenure in office.

As we see it, Pope Benedict XVI did not resign because of his job performance, he abandoned the Church and his flock when certain truths could no longer be hidden. Throughout his long career, the same pattern of abuse, institutional knowledge, and cover-up are visible. Benedict’s multiple apologies are faint at best, especially to a population of victims who could care less about an institution that allowed the truth to be hidden. The Catholic Church essentially condones wrongdoing by honoring those who enable or conceal wrongdoing.

CONTACT:  Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications ([email protected], 267-261-0578) Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President ([email protected], 814-341-8386)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is




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