Home Christian News Munich Report on Sex Abuse Heightens Catholic Church Divide Over Sexuality

Munich Report on Sex Abuse Heightens Catholic Church Divide Over Sexuality

Munich Report
With the towers of the cathedral in the background, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, bids farewell to the Bavarian believers in downtown Munich, Germany, Feb. 28, 1982. The Vatican on Jan. 26, 2022, strongly defended Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s record in fighting clergy sexual abuse and cautioned against looking for “easy scapegoats and summary judgments,” after an independent report faulted his handling of four cases of abuse when he was archbishop of Munich. (AP Photo/Dieter Endlicher, File)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Supporters of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI rose to his defense in the past week after a report on decades of sexual abuse in his former archdiocese in Munich accused the retired pontiff of covering up and ignoring abuse by Catholic priests there.

But some believe the defense of Benedict is less about his legacy and more about the deepening polarization in the Catholic Church and its approach to homosexuality and priestly celibacy, issues that are both now center stage in Germany.

“I don’t think the report is going to change the mind of people either way” when it comes to Benedict, said Bill Donohue, longtime president of the Catholic League, a conservative watchdog and promoter of the church.

Benedict “is hated by the Catholic left because he is the one who really enforced the Scriptures of the Catholic Church as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith,” said Donahue, referring to the prelate’s tenure during the papacy of St. John Paul II as an enforcer of Catholic dogma, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger earned the title “God’s Rottweiler.”

“The impending schism in Germany is far more serious than this,” said Donahue, who called himself proud to be called “the Rottweiler’s Rottweiler.”

report from the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, published Jan. 10, found that bishops who oversaw the diocese between 1945 and 2019, including Ratzinger, failed to punish clergy and laypeople who committed sexual abuse.

More importantly for many Catholics, however, is the movement in the wider German church that has involved the country’s Catholics in wide-ranging discussions of the most pressing issues facing the institution, including sexual abuse, for nearly three years. The “Synodal Path,” as the discussions are known, followed a 2018 report that scandalized Catholics in the country when it found more than 37,000 cases of clerical abuse in Germany over the span of 68 years, leading to a massive exodus of faithful.

The Synodal Path discussions ended in early February under the shadow of the revelations from Munich. Even after Benedict responded contritely to the accusations, German Catholics felt “disappointed,” said Claudia Lücking-Michel, vice president of the Central Committee for German Catholics and a delegate to the Synodal Path.

While the Synodal Path addresses a wide array of topics facing the local church, including female ordination and power structures, the question of homosexuality “is currently at the very center of public discussion,” Lücking said.

The report, she said, “was the last drop that made the cup overflow.”

While many Germans identify clericalism — the abuse of power by Catholic clergy — as the main culprit for the church’s systemic failure to respond to sexual abuse, some Catholic conservatives blame the presence of homosexuals in the church.

“We have a homosexual scandal here, not a pedophilia scandal,” Donohue said. “Clericalism may have something to do with why some bishops were enabled, but it has nothing to do with why a man would put his hands on a minor.”

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Claire Giangravé is an author at Religion News Service.