Pope Benedict Xvi: Victims Said He Didn't Do Enough to Help Survivors of Abuse or Punish Offending Church Leaders
By Ivey Dejesus
February 13, 2013
|This April 19, 2005 file photo shows Pope Benedict XVI greeting the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica moments after being elected, at the Vatican. On Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 Benedict XVI announced he would resign Feb. 28, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March. |
|Elaine and Art Baselice wait outside a conference room at the Pennsylvania State Capitol this year to meet Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and press him to support pending legislation that would reform state laws against child sex crimes predators. MARK PYNES, The Patriot-News |
Pope Benedict XVI may be nearing the end of his papacy, but survivors of clergy sexual abuse say he still has plenty of time to ensure predator priests are brought to justice and ensure children are protected.
“It may sound naive, but we haven’t yet given up on this one. He does have 15 or 16 days in office,” said David Clohessy, director of the the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.”
Benedict on Monday stunned the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics with his announcement that he would resign his at the end of the month. The frail 85-year-old pontiff cited poor health as reason for his decision.
In the wake of his announcement, victims advocates like Clohessy -- as well as experts on the Catholic Church -- have criticized the German-born pope for failing to do what he once promised: to have the church do “all in its power” to bring predator priests to justice and protect children.
“He’s issued some apologies and made some gestures but it’s virtually all symbolism,” Clohessy said. “In a practical way, he’s taken no truly effective tangible steps that make children across the globe safer. For most victims a symbolic gesture at this juncture is too little, too late.”
By far, the most significant - and beneficial - tangible step Benedict could take is to bring offending church leaders to justice, Clohessy said. SNAP works with more than 12,000 victims of clergy sex abuse in this country.
“If the pope were to discipline even a handful of bishops who were concealing abuse, that would send shockwaves throughout the church hierarchy and would be more unprecedented than any position that has been taken,” Clohessy said.
That may be a bold move -- but one within Benedict’s reach, he said.
“With this decision to retire he has proven he is capable of bold action,” Clohessy said.
The Vatican has long argued that Benedict -- who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, pushed for stiffer measures against predator priests -- has worked to bring justice against abusive priests.
In 2010, Benedict met with several survivors, but no action was ever taken against church leaders. The pontiff even drew the ire of Irish Catholics when he suggested they had played a role in the abuse of thousands of children in that country.
"You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry,” Benedict told the faithful in a letter read at Mass across Ireland. "I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity violated.”
Indeed, Benedict may have established more rigorous church protocol, but he has yet to defrock complicit bishops nor predator priests.
“He did the minimum for public relations purposes,” said Marci Hamilton, a New York attorney who represents 16 of the 18 victims in the Philadelphia Archdiocese lawsuit. “His meeting with survivors did not mean he made it easier for survivors to meet with the archdiocese or handle their own abuse.”
Hamilton, professor and chair at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, said the Catholic Church under Benedict has continued its resistance to helping survivors of abuse.
Even the selection of a new pope, a procedure cloaked in Vatican secrecy and set to start in about two weeks, smacks at the sensitivities of victims.
Among those expected to cast a vote will be Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who two years ago was relieved of his duties as archbishop of Los Angeles after it was found he shielded predator priests for decades.
For Hamilton’s victim clients, it’s another show of a status quo that has no signs of changing.
“With this decision to retire he has proven he is capable of bold action." - David Clohessy, SNAP
“For most survivors there is a complete lack of trust in church hierarchy and whoever is pope doesn’t indicate to them how they are going to heal and what are the best pathways to heal,” she said.
Art Baselice, whose son Arthur, killed himself in 2006 after enduring years of abuse at the hands of his priest, thinks Benedict should be held accountable.
“The same that any human being would face,” he said. “He’s not better than anybody else.”
Baselice received two letters from the Congregation of Doctrine of Faith, in which the Philadelphia Archdiocese, his former archdiocese, admitted that two priests had abused his son. Neither priest has been removed from the priesthood.
“What are the results of (Benedict’s) reaching out to the victims?” Baselice asked.
His son, Arthur, once a straight-A student, developed a heroin addiction after years of sexual abuse at the hands of priest Charles Newman, former president of Archbishop Ryan, the largest Roman Catholic high school in Philadelphia.
Newman was sentenced to prison in 2009 for stealing nearly $1 million from his religious order.
“What has he done?” said Baselice, who has become an activists, urging state lawmakers to approve tougher laws against predators and changes to statutes of limitations.
Todd Frey, a Lancaster man who was abused by his priest in the 1980s, said he would have liked to have seen Benedict come to Philadelphia, where the church for several years now has been rocked by a clergy sex abuse scandal involving some 23 priests.
“I think when things in Philadelphia broke, he should’ve been more clear and, if not, even physically visible in that area,” Frey said. “That would’ve made a big difference to a lot of Catholics. I know that sounds like an odd statement.....but just making himself more accessible, rather he was quite silent.”
Frey for years received therapy financed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. In April 1996, then-Bishop Nicholas C. Dattilo wrote to Frey to say: “The most profound of sorrows is for a bishop to discover that one of the priests of his diocese has betrayed his office by sexual misconduct.”
No criminal charges were ever leveled on Guy Marsico, a former priest assigned to St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Rohrerstown, Lancaster County.
In 2011, SNAP filed a petition with the International Criminal Court asking for Benedict’s arrest for crimes against humanity. SNAP argued the pontiff essentially enabled and encouraged the coverup of the sex crimes.
“We are certainly not alleging that the pope committed the sex abuse but that he and top staff have a long-standing pattern of concealing these crimes and enabling offenders to move across international boundaries and have access to more kids. That’s our definition of crimes against humanity,” Clohessy said.
The case is still pending, but Clohessy remains hopeful. One of the prosecutors dropped out of the case, and before leaving, dismissed several cases. SNAP’s was not one of them.
“We are slightly relieved about that,” Clohessy said.
At the moment, approximately 30 American bishops have posted predator priests on Bishopaccountability.com, which collects information on abusive church officials.
Clohessy hopes the new pope charts a different course, with regards to reaching out to victims.
“The world would be dramatically safer if every bioshop were ordered to do that by new pope,” he said. “And the new pope could order bishops to sit with secular lawmakers and start drafting and pushing for better child safety laws.”
The dioceses of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have posted names on Bishopaccountability.