The Church's Moral Accountability

By Terry Mckiernan
Washington Post
March 31, 2010

Last week was a remarkable time for victims of abuse by Catholic clergy and for the Vatican. The week will be remembered as the moment when a crisis that had gained notoriety in several countries, starting with the U.S. in 1985, suddenly emerged as a global issue and reached the Pope himself, with implications that I'll discuss below. By Saturday, March 27, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, S.J., acknowledged that the way the church deals with sexual abuse "is crucial for her moral credibility." Lombardi was referring to these developments:

? March 21: Embattled Irish primate Cardinal Sean Brady released Benedict's letter to the Irish people, who gave it a mixed reception.

? March 24: The Munich and Freising archdiocese announced it had informed police that Rev. Peter Hullermann (welcomed to the archdiocese by then-Archbishop Ratzinger in 1980 after allegations, and convicted of child abuse in 1986) had been accused of sexually abusing a boy in 1998; the alleged abuse is recent enough to prosecute.

? March 25: The New York Times reported that in 1998 at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Ratzinger and then-Msgr. Bertone had stopped a church tribunal investigating Rev. Lawrence Murphy, who had molested 200 boys at a school for the deaf in the Milwaukee archdiocese; the Times posted Vatican documents.

? March 26: The New York Times reported that a Munich and Freising archdiocesan memo showed that Ratzinger had chaired the 1980 meeting that approved Hullermann's residence in a parish and that Ratzinger received a memo confirming that Hullermann was working without restrictions there.

? March 26: Three victims of sexual abuse in a school for the deaf in Verona appeared on Italian TV; one accused Bishop Giuseppe Carraro of sexual abuse; Carraro is up for beatification.

Despite Lombardi's urgent talk of "moral credibility," Benedict did not discuss these revelations during the ideal opportunity offered by his Palm Sunday homily for the 25th World Youth Day, except perhaps when he inveighed against a "morass of lies and dishonesty" and the "gossip of dominant opinions." Of course, the papal resignation beloved of commentators was not on offer. Nor did Benedict acknowledge his personal involvement in the Munich case or reach out to the victims. This was a moral failure, and also a tactical one. Benedict has allowed the dreadful events to speak for themselves:

? People have been reminded of the gravity of the abuse. In Dublin and Milwaukee and Verona, priests and brothers and possibly a bishop sexually assaulted hundreds of completely defenseless deaf children, while the CDF worried about procedure and pontifical secret. Only Dante could depict such cruelty and calculated indifference.

? Benedict has performed culpably in this abuse crisis on at least two occasions, and has lied about his role. The performance people might have excused, but the lies?

? Secrecy with disastrous effects is revealed to be Vatican policy. In the Kilmore diocese, the future primate of all Ireland, following Vatican secret procedures, swore children to secrecy about the abuse they suffered, and their molester went on to abuse children for 18 more years. In Milwaukee, a Vatican-mandated trial was "abated" by Ratzinger and Bertone to "avoid scandal." In Munich, Ratzinger's deal with an admitted child abuser provided the place - and the silence - within which Hullermann continued his abuse for at least 18 years.

? Predator- and church-friendly laws and law enforcement protected Murphy from prosecution, gave Hullermann a suspended sentence and conveniently lost his file, and denied deaf victims due process through statutes of limitations in Dublin, Verona, and Milwaukee.

? The interconnectedness of the crisis has been revealed as never before, in therapy and transfer strategies that are identical across dioceses, the intimate involvement of the Vatican in many cases, the top-down termination of employment by laicization, common methods for enforcing secrecy, and so forth.

The Vatican has much to fear in this new situation, from these cases and from other developments:

? A government commission is examining the secret files of the Diocese of Cloyne in Ireland and will be issuing a report.

? The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Cardinal Mahony of the Los Angeles archdiocese.

? Lawsuits against the Vatican are proceeding in Kentucky and Oregon.

? The attitude of the German government and law enforcement is toughening.

? Statutes of limitations have been amended in California and Maryland, and changes have been recommended by investigations elsewhere in the U.S. See also the Murphy report on delay in reporting.

In this new global phase of the abuse crisis, we can expect veterans of the 2002 U.S. Charter and Norms effort, such as Cardinals Law, Mahony, and George, to urge an apparently pastoral Vatican response. But "moral credibility" will remain with the victims and government investigators and attorneys and the media, who have pressed deeply reluctant and unwilling bishops for nearly 30 years. The revelations of the last week are their achievement.

Terry McKiernan is the founder and president of, a library and web archive of the Catholic sex abuse and financial crisis.


A group of people who as children were in care have accused Augssburg Bishop Walter Mixa of corporal punishment. Jutta Stadler of Pfaffenhofen confirmed on Wednesday in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the accusation were included in an affivdavit. One person said the bishops gave full force in the face.

Six sworn statements say that Mixa had beaten them during his time as pastor in the Schrobenhausen children's home.


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