Pope Benedict’s legacy

Radio New Zealand [Wellington, New Zealand]

January 14, 2023

By Mitchell Garabedian

[Includes 20-minute audio interview]

The death of Pope Benedict on New Year’s Eve prompted an outpouring of grief among Catholics – but his legacy is a complicated one.

A world-renowned lawyer – who’s represented countless victims of sexual abuse within the church – and was famously depicted in the 2015 film Spotlight – believes Pope Benedict XVI leaves behind a tarnished legacy.

Child abuse in the Catholic church is as bad now as ever, despite the positive impact of bringing such cases to light, Mitchell Garabedian says.

Pope Benedict’s legacy is “disappointing,” Garabedian says.

“Pope Benedict toed the company line, he practised the cover up when he was Archbishop in Munich, or he was leading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which investigated sexual abuse claims.

“As Pope he was more interested in protecting the institution and more interested in doctrine than protecting children and trying to help victims to try to heal and get on with their lives.”

Pope Benedict reportedly blamed clergy sexual abuse on the 1960s sexual revolution, told The Weekend.

“Well, I’ve had hundreds of clients through the years who are still coming forward, who were abused long before the 1960s sexual revolution; they were abused in the 1930s, in the 1940s in the 1950s.”

“We hear all these slogans that the Pope used and they were excuses. They weren’t reasons he practised the cover up.

That the Catholic church could investigate itself on claims of clergy sex abuse is “objectively absurd,” Garabedian says.

“The Catholic Church has subjective interests. And they were interested in practising the cover up of clergy sexual abuse, if they were really interested in the safety and welfare of children and the healing of victims they would have revealed all their documents.

“Pope Benedict would have revealed all the documents they would have revealed the files on a paedophile priests, and they would urge the public to call the police.”

In the wake of Pope Benedict’s death he has received some praise for fighting sexual abuse in the Catholic Church with more vigour than his predecessors, this is unwarranted, Garabedian says.

“Pope Benedict fought for the cover up of sexual abuse.”

In the light of his investigations ill-feeling in deeply Catholic Boston is rife, he says.

“When I started in 1994 with father John Geoghan, parishioners would come up to me and they would swear at me, they have negative words for me, or they would give me a nasty look.

“But as time has gone on, into the 2000s, parishioners would come up to me and they still do when I walk down the sidewalk and say, you know, you were absolutely right.

“Something has to be done, the bishops have to be controlled, the Catholic Church has to get a handle on this.”

There is anger and disgust among the community, he says.

“Any mature adult, whether you be a pope, or any person, knows the sexual abuse of children is wrong. You cannot sexually abuse a five-year-old or a 10-year old or a 15-year-old, that is wrong, that is evil, that is criminal, you would think that the Catholic Church wants to remove the evil that lurks within it.

“And that’s what child abuse is.”

People understand that the Pope sits atop an organisation where “sexual abuse is wide and deep,” he says.

“It starts from the hierarchy on down with regard to negligent supervision, it’s the culture of the church.

“It is not the Pope saying you bishops, you vicar generals, you chancellors, you should really watch out and protect children.

“It’s the Pope leading by example; by not talking about sexual abuse, by not sanctioning priests properly, by not conducting speedy investigations, by not reporting sexual abuse to the police, that really teaches all the bishops and vicar generals and chancellors and everyone under his wings wing to practise the cover up.”

Pope Francis is cut from the same cloth, he says.

“Pope Francis is not putting any reforms in place, he’s not revealing any documents, he’s not outing the names of priests in any magnitude. He’s part of the company, the Catholic Church, which is a company concerned about its financial wealth.”

Victims approach him daily for representation, he says, and the church doesn’t care about children in its own care.

“The amount of clergy sexual abuse is so deep and wide that it’s never going to go away. We just have to be able to fight it and to limit it and keep the public aware of its evil.”