Save the Children

Article excerpt

Byline: Lisa Miller

Benedict & Co. need to do penance.

I'm not sure I can take it anymore, my Catholic friend K. wrote to me in an e-mail. Maybe I should become an Episcopalian.

Fury does not begin to describe her mood. More than 10,000 children in Europe smacked, tortured, and raped by priests who were supposed to protect them. Bishops and spokesmen denying or minimizing their role--appearing, for all the world, like old men who seem not to understand the seriousness of what they've done. When universal clerical celibacy was established in 1139, it was intended, as Diarmaid MacCulloch puts it in his new book Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, to "set up a barrier between the clergy and laity, becoming the badge of clerical status." The barrier's still there, but in these cases the status carries a strong whiff of freakishness.

Chilling headlines came out of the Roman Catholic Church last week. In Ireland it was revealed that Cardinal Sean Brady had reportedly been present at a 1975 tribunal at which child victims were forced to sign an affidavit affirming they'd keep silent on the matter of their molestation. "Frankly," the cardinal told reporters, "I don't believe that this is a resigning matter." (He later apologized.) In Germany the pope's older brother, Georg Ratzinger, confessed that he'd occasionally slapped boys in the choir at Regensburg, but that it always made him feel bad; he had no knowledge of sexual abuse at the school. In Rome, Vatican spokesmen denied that Pope Benedict XVI knew about the predatory activities of a pedophile priest under his jurisdiction when he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982. His deputy from that period confessed it was he and not his boss, then Joseph Ratzinger, who reinstated the offending priest (post-remedial therapy) into a parish--where he proceeded to abuse more children.

Reporters will continue to investigate the question, what did Benedict know and when did he know it? This is appropriate. But his continued complicity in the matter of Cardinal Bernard Law taints him already, no matter what is revealed in Munich.

Law presided over the Boston Archdiocese for nearly 20 years. During that time he ignored repeated pleas from the mothers and aunts of abused children, coddled offending priests, and demanded silence from victims until--after the number of cases exceeded 500--he was forced in 2002 to resign his post. …