On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will be resigning at the end of February. The 84 year old pontiff, born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, will be the first to resign since Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415 and the first to do so voluntarily since Pope Celestine V in 1294. He has served as Pope since 2005.
Although Benedict XVI has cited health concerns, there is some speculation that the resignation may be related to the ongoing sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the church in the past decade. Before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was responsible for ordering that all reports of sex abuse be channeled through his office at the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith which he operated from 2001 to 2005.
The Hollywood Reporter cites Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney, whose documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God sought to expose the sex abuse crisis as saying, “I think his papacy will always be saddled with the stain of the sex abuse crisis. While he did some things to try to mitigate it, he never took responsibility in any kind of substantial ways, and this is the man who knows more about clerical sex abuse than any person on the planet because of what he did between 2001 and 2005 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was always trying to make it go away, and it wouldn’t go away, because he never fundamentally understood how deep was the pain and the crime and never was willing to hold himself and the church to account for having done what it did.”
Gibney’s film describes the lives of five deaf men who were abused as boys by a priest in the 1960s at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They had appealed their case to local authorities and ultimately to the Vatican where they were ignored.
Givney tells the Hollywood Reporter that there were times when Ratzinger tried to move forward and then would revert to protect the institution.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a 12,000 member organization, has claimed Benedict is personally responsible for widespread abuse within the church because he chose to protect its reputation over the safety of children. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a case against the pope last year on behalf of SNAP.
In a statement released this week, the CCR said: “This pope is responsible for rape and other sexual violence around the world, both through his exercise of superior responsibility and through his direct involvement in the cover up of specific crimes. Tens of thousands of victims, most of them children, continue to suffer because he has placed the reputation of the church above the safety of its members. His resignation will make international prosecution easier for national systems of justice that still grant immunity to current heads of state.”
Additionally, several American lawsuits have been filed against the pope and other high-ranking Holy See officials for systematically concealing sexual crimes. These sex abuse cases have taken a large financial toll on the Catholic Church. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles alone had to pay a $660 million settlement stemming from clergy abuse lawsuits. Last week the Los Angeles Times reported that Cardinal Roger Mahony “quietly appropriated $115 million from a cemetery maintenance fund and used to to help pay a landmark settlement with molestation victims. The church did not inform relatives of the deceased that it had taken the money, which amounted to 88% of the fund.”
Mahoney had agreed to the settlement six years ago knowing that if the case, brought by more than 500 plaintiffs, may have resulted in a trial verdict exceeding $1 billion. The Los Angeles settlement paid out an average of $1.3 per victim.
In the U.S.,
the Catholic sex abuse scandal has taken a tremendous toll on the church with over $2 billion spent so far on legal settlements and attorney fees, 16,000 victims, mostly teenage boys since 1950, 6,100 accused priests since 1950, and 4,000 cases having been investigated in the past decade.
In addition, there were a number of other issues that Benedict had to deal with, including rumors of problematic dealings of the IOR bank, political rivalries between cardinals, and a document leak scandal.
Although Benedict might bear some responsibility for the way that the sex abuse scandal has been handled, it is difficult to comprehend how one individual could handle the sheer magnitude of the allegations and finances involved. In fact, it was during his reign as pope that many of the cases were settled and one can only assume that new policies and procedures were implemented that will prevent future abuse cases.
Benedict’s resignation may provide the Vatican with an opportunity to move past the scandals and toward a more hopeful future.
The day before announcing his resignation, Benedict tweeted: “We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but his grace transforms us and makes us new.”