How Can Decent Catholics Back the Pope - a Man Who Hid Child Abuse and Calls Gays Evil?

By Johann Hari
Daily Mail
September 13, 2010

Let me appeal to Britain's Roman Catholics now, in the final days before Joseph Ratzinger's state visit begins.

I know that you are overwhelmingly decent people. You are opposed to covering up the rape of children. You are opposed to telling Africans that condoms 'increase the problem' of HIV/Aids. You are opposed to labelling gay people 'evil'. The vast majority of you, if you witnessed any of these acts, would be disgusted and speak out.

Yet over the next fortnight, many of you will, nonetheless, turn out to cheer for a Pope who has unrepentantly done all these things.

I believe you are much better people than this man. It is my conviction that if you impartially review the evidence of the suffering he has inflicted on your fellow Catholics, you will stand in solidarity with them - and join the protesters.

Pope Benedict XVI: Joseph Ratzinger was personally in charge of the part of the Vatican responsible for enforcing Catholic canonical law across the world, including on sexual abuse, for 25 years

Some think Ratzinger's critics are holding him responsible for acts that were carried out before he became Pope, simply because he is the head of the institution involved.

This is an error. For more than 25 years, Ratzinger was personally in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the part of the Vatican responsible for enforcing Catholic canonical law across the world, including on sexual abuse. He is a notorious micro-manager who, it is said, insisted every salient document crossed his desk.

Hans Kung, a former friend of Ratzinger's, says: 'No one in the whole of the Catholic Church knew as much about abuse cases as this Pope.'

We know what the methods of the Church were during this time. When it was discovered that a child had been raped by a priest, the Church swore everyone involved to secrecy and moved the priest on to another parish. When he raped more children, they, too, were sworn to secrecy and he was moved on to another parish. And on, and on.

More than 10,000 people have come forward to say they were raped as part of this misery-go-round.

The Church insisted all cases be kept from the police and dealt with by their own 'canon' law - which can 'punish' child rapists only to prayer, penitence or, on rare occasions, defrocking.

Ratzinger was at the heart of this. He refuses to let any police officer see the Vatican's documentation, even now. But honourable Catholics have leaked some of them anyway. We know what he did. Here are three examples.

In Germany in the early Eighties, Father Peter Hullermann was moved to a diocese run by Ratzinger. Hullermann had already been accused of raping three boys. Ratzinger didn't go to the police. Instead, Hullermann was referred for 'counselling'.

The psychiatrist who saw him, Werner Huth, told the Church unequivocally that he was 'untreatable [and] must never be allowed to work with children again'. Yet he kept being moved from parish to parish, even after a sex crime conviction in 1986. He was last accused of sexual abuse in 1998.

In the U.S. in 1985, a group of American bishops wrote to Ratzinger begging him to defrock a priest called Father Stephen Kiesle, who had tied up and molested two young boys in a rectory.

Ratzinger refused for years, explaining that he was thinking of the 'good of the universal Church' and of the 'detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke among the community of Christ's faithful, particularly considering the young age' of the priest involved. He was 38.

Kiesle went on to rape many more children.

Think about what Ratzinger's statement reveals. Ratzinger thinks the 'good of the universal Church' - your Church - lies not in protecting your children from being raped, but in protecting the rapists from punishment.

In 1996, the Archbishop of Milwaukee appealed to Ratzinger to defrock Father Lawrence C. Murphy, who had raped and tortured up to 200 deaf and mute children at a Catholic boarding school. His rapes often began in the confessional. Ratzinger never replied.

Eight months later, there was a secret canonical 'trial'. But Murphy wrote to Ratzinger saying he was ill, so it was cancelled. Ratzinger advised him to take a 'spiritual retreat'. Murphy died years later, unpunished.

These are only the cases that have leaked out. Who knows what remains in the closed files?

In 2001, Ratzinger wrote to every bishop in the world, telling them allegations of abuse must be dealt with 'in absolute secrecy ... completely suppressed by perpetual silence'.

That year, the Vatican lauded Bishop Pierre Pican for refusing to inform the local French police about a paedophile priest, telling him: 'I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration.' The commendation was copied to all bishops.

Once the evidence of an international-conspiracy to cover up abuse became incontrovertible to any reasonable observer, Ratzinger's defenders shifted tack and said he was sorry and would change his behaviour.

But this June, the Belgian police told the Catholic Church it could no longer 'investigate' child rape on Belgian soil internally, and seized the documents relating to child abuse from the offices of a Church commission.

If Ratzinger was repentant, he would surely have congratulated them. He did the opposite. He called them 'deplorable' and his spokesman said: 'There is no precedent for this, not even under communist regimes.'

He still thinks the law doesn't apply to his institution. When Ratzinger issued supposedly ground-breaking new rules against paedophilia earlier this year, he put it on a par with . . . ordaining women as priests.

There are people who will tell you that these criticisms of Ratzinger are 'anti-Catholic'. What could be more anti-Catholic than to cheer the man who facilitated the rape of your children? What could be more pro-Catholic than to try to bring him to justice?

This is only one of Ratzinger's crimes. When he visited Africa in March 2009, he said that condoms 'increase the problem' of HIV/Aids.

His defenders say he is simply preaching abstinence outside marriage and monogamy within it, so if people are following his advice they can't contract HIV.

But in order to reinforce the first part of his message, he spreads overt lies, claiming condoms don't work.

In the Congo, I watched as a Catholic priest said condoms contain 'tiny holes' that 'help' the HIV virus - not an unusual event.

Meanwhile, Ratzinger calls consensual gay sex 'evil' and has been at the forefront of trying to prevent laws that establish basic rights for gay people.

I know, for many British Catholics, their faith makes them think of something warm, good and kind - a beloved grandmother or the gentler sayings of Jesus. That is not what Ratzinger stands for.

If you turn out to celebrate him, you will be endorsing his crimes.

If your faith pulls you towards him rather than the victims, shouldn't that make you think again about your faith? Doesn't it suggest that faith, in fact, distorts your moral faculties?

I know this may cause you pain, but it is nothing compared to the pain of a child raped by his priest or a woman infected with HIV because Ratzinger said condoms make Aids worse, or a gay person stripped of basic legal rights.

You have a choice during this state visit: stand with Ratzinger, or with his Catholic victims. Which side, do you think, would be chosen by the Nazarene carpenter you find on your crucifixes?


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.