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Sex scandal and papal déjà vu

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Credit: New York Times/The Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, with hands together, at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Wisconsin in 1960.

In what were Pope Francis’ first comments on the sexual abuse scandal since taking office, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has called for “decisive action” to be taken in delivering justice to any offending priests who might have engaged in sexual abuse with children.

Of course, to the victims this must surely reek of failed past promises, since Joseph Ratzinger more or less said he would do the same thing upon becoming the Holy See, declaring that he would expunge “filth” from the church. He did no such thing, of course, and rather than lavishing praise on Ratzinger for whatever legacy he might have left after all the tarnish is brushed away in 100 years, Benedict’s resignation to me felt more like a man slinking off into the night to escape his own trial, which has been called for by both Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

Recall that in 2010, The New York Times reported that before taking office as the pope, then-Cardinal Ratzinger was part of a cabal of top church officials who were complicit in failing to defrock a priest who molested 200 deaf boys. Deaf boys!

According to The Times article:

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

The Wisconsin case involved an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at a renowned school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974. But it is only one of thousands of cases forwarded over decades by bishops to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Ratzinger. It is still the office that decides whether accused priests should be given full canonical trials and defrocked.

While I suppose it’s a positive that Bergoglio is at least acknowledging a problem within the church, I’m afraid this is probably too little and coming way too late, especially for the victims. And in any case, until charges are filed and trials begin, any statements coming out of the Vatican on the scandal will be nothing short of shallow and insulting.

Representatives with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests — yes, there are so many victims that they have formed a coalition — were not impressed with Bergoglio’s rather weak-kneed nod to justice. Here is SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris as quoted in a report from BBC:

We can’t confuse words with actions. When we do, we hurt kids. We must insist on new tangible action that helps vulnerable children protect their bodies, not old vague pledges that help a widely-discredited institution protect its reputation.

I’m not confident that this “tangible action” will come to pass and will be much surprised if it does. Meanwhile, where are the calls to root out Ratzinger and his co-conspirators? How disgraceful, indeed, for priests who may have covered up some of the most egregious and “filthy” sins man is capable of committing to be walking around in civil society and enjoying the fruits of liberty without facing up to a shred of accountability. Quite a legacy.

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