Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had to face several problems when he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The first problem was of a juridical (disciplinary) nature, the second, perhaps the most serious, was one of mentality.
Benedict XVI has been the most intransigent regarding paedophilia within the Catholic Church and has begun the real fight against paedophilia, not with slogans, but with facts. Not with clamour but with the search for Justice and Truth.
In 1988, Joseph Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and found himself dealing with several cases in which priests accused of committing sexual abuse of minors asked for dispensation from the obligations of the priesthood. However, in canon law, this is granted as a grace and not inflicted as a penalty.
For this reason, five years after the entry into force of the new Code of Canon Law, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decided to write to the body commissioned by John Paul II for the authentic interpretation of the new Codex.
Ratzinger writes: "These measures [among which the reduction to the clerical state], in the judgement of this Dicastery should, in some cases, for the good of the faithful, precede the eventual concession of the priestly dispensation, which, by its nature, is a 'grace' in favour of the speaker. But given the complexity of the procedure required by the Code in this regard, it is foreseeable that some Ordinaries will encounter not a few difficulties in implementing it".
The Prefect believed that priests accused of such serious crimes should not be pardoned, but rather tried and, if guilty, punished.
Letter - Cardinal Ratzinger 1988 ITA
At the request of Cardinal Ratzinger, the Pope John Paul II transferred the competence to judge such crimes to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2001 with the apostolic letter in the form of a motu proprio SACRAMENTORUM SANCTITATIS TUTELA.
This change is of radical importance in the life of the Church and in the fight against paedophilia, because in this way there was no risk that cases would be treated differently depending on the dicastery receiving the 'hot potato', and furthermore, it would resolve the vulnus highlighted by Ratzinger himself in his 1988 letter.
Cardinal Ratzinger was faced with a further problem, perhaps the most serious and difficult to unhinge, namely a mentality that, consciously or not, believed that the priest could not commit these acts. This was also recalled by the Supreme Pontiff Francis, during the press conference on his flight back from his apostolic trip to Abu Dhabi in 2019. The Pope recounted an episode that highlights Joseph Ratzinger's desire to combat this scourge.
"C'è un aneddoto, reports Pope Francis, lui aveva tutte le carte, tutti i documenti, su una organizzazione religiosa che aveva corruzione al suo interno, sessuale ed economica. Lui [da Cardinale] andava e c'erano dei filtri, e non poteva arrivare. Alla fine, il Papa [Giovanni Paolo II], con l'intento di capire la verità, ha fatto una riunione, e Joseph Ratzinger è andato lì con la cartella e tutte le sue carte. E quando è tornato ha detto al suo segretario: "Mettila nell'archivio, ha vinto l'altra parte". Noi non dobbiamo scandalizzarci per questo, sono passi di un processo. Ma poi, diventato Papa, la prima cosa che ha detto è stata: "Portami dall'archivio quelle carte", e ha incominciato..."
["There is an anecdote, Cardinal Ratzinger had all the papers, all the documents, about a religious organisation that had corruption within it, sexual and economic.
He [as a Cardinal] asked for measures but there were filters, and he couldn't get them. In the end, the Pope [John Paul II], with the intention of understanding the truth, had a meeting, and Joseph Ratzinger went there with the folder and all his evidence. And when he came back he said to his secretary: "Put it in the archive, the other side won". We should not be scandalised by this, they are steps in a process. But then, when he became Pope, the first thing he said was: "Bring me those papers from the archives", and he started to work".]
The press conference was in Italian. The Pope spoke about this topic from minute 37.20.
Benedict XVI, while still a cardinal, was therefore faced with a mentality that was reluctant to believe that the priest could even think of such iniquities.
On several occasions Benedict XVI has used very harsh words against the perpetrators of these crimes. Among the many moments we recall the Apostolic Journey to the United States of America in A.D. 2008 on the occasion of the visit to the headquarters of the United Nations Organisation. During that trip, on 17 April 2008 at 4.15 p.m., the Pontiff met, in the US Nunciature, a small group of people who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy. He spoke on five occasions about this serious scandal, even discussing it openly with the bishops.
It is not possible to forget the letter that Benedict XVI sent to the Catholics of Ireland. The Pope addressed a Pastoral Letter to all Irish Catholics expressing dismay at the sexual abuse of young people by Church leaders and the way it was handled by Irish bishops and religious superiors. Benedict XVI proposed a path of healing, renewal and reparation.
Lastly, but most importantly, it was Ratzinger's indication that unfortunately is not taken into account today, namely to pay the utmost attention to presbyteral formation. Today we speak of abstract, generic concepts, in order to shift attention to other needs and not to the protection of minors. There is talk of clericalism as the reason for the sexual abuse of minors. We confess that although there are many cases of child abuse in the family, we have never seen a "clerical" man or woman abusing their child.
Benedict XVI, on the other hand, put the spotlight on the real problem, on the true nature of paedophilia in the clergy, namely the lack of training in affectivity, in healthy relationships, within seminaries and religious houses.
Grateful to the Supreme Pontiff Emeritus for his invaluable work, today we are doing a work of truth, simply historical, about what he did during the years when he began his faithful service to the Church.
The priest of the Essen diocese, Peter Hullermann, allegedly committed crimes against minors in at least four places in North Rhine-Westphalia and Upper Bavaria during his time as a clergyman. So far, about 30 victims have reported.
At the beginning of 1980, the priest was sent to the diocese of Munich-Friesland for therapy.
As we have often pointed out, paedophilia is an illness and must therefore be treated. The diocese has not filed a complaint or initiated its own criminal proceedings. The complaint should have been made by the bishop of his home diocese, not by Ratzinger. Shortly after his transfer, Hullermann worked as a pastor again from 1982 until the bishop of Essen, Overbeck, removed him in 2010 after further accusations. In 2020, the priest returned to the diocese of Essen, where he now lives in solitary confinement and under surveillance.
When Hullermann started in 1982, Cardinal Ratzinger was already in Rome. In fact, the Archbishop was called to Rome on 15 February 1982 and left the diocese of Munich-Friesland.
Cardinal Ratzinger was involved neither in the priest's admission to the recovery therapy nor in his reintegration as a priest. At that time, there had been a request from the diocese of Essen as to whether Priest H. could be accepted into the Archdiocese of Munich-Friesland for such therapy for a limited time. The vicar-general of Munich, Mgr Gerhard Gruber, had agreed to Hullermann's admission in a meeting in which the archbishop had not participated.
For these reasons, the accusations made against the Holy Father Emeritus are baseless and instrumental. As we explained above, Benedict XVI was the cleric who fought paedophilia most decisively.
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