Theology for Millennials: Benedict’s Innocence

What Is Going On with the Case of the Unjust Accusation of Benedict XVI?

Benedict’s Innocence
Benedict XVI, archive photo © Vatican Media

In “Theology for Millennials” today, Monday, January 31, 2022, Father Mario Arroyo Martínez shares with Exaudi’s readers his weekly article entitled “Benedict’s Innocence.”

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The understandable social rejection of clerical pederasty runs the risk of becoming markedly unjust when used as an expedient to disqualify innocent individuals. This happened with Cardinal George Pell, accused without proof of pedophilia, spending two years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Now Benedict XVI has to pay the price because of the disinformation and de-contextualization of events that happened over 40 years ago.

Because yes, it must be said emphatically that Benedict XVI is innocent of the crimes hastily imputed to him by the German media in an irresponsible way, to generate scandal. Journalists took out of context some questionable conclusions of a report requested by the Church herself to demarcate responsibilities in regard to clerical pedophilia. Of course, they have made use of scandalous headlines and have not read the extensive Report or Benedict XVI’s answer. In fact, they don’t give a voice to the accused to defend himself and they proffer as a given his culpability. Keeping to the Report itself, what can be said is that during the period of five years in which Ratzinger was at the head of the Munich diocese, there was no incident of pedophilia, not a single one. What they impute to him, and hence make him responsible, was committed either before or after he was Bishop. They also impute to him to have received priests accused of pederasty who in fact were to receive psychological therapy and kept away, during his mandate, from pastoral work.

After he left that post, it was the Vicar General and not Ratzinger, who gave them permission to have pastoral responsibilities again. If one analyses case by case, one sees there was no will or attitude in Benedict XVI to cover up. However, beyond the truth of the events, as in the case of Cardinal Pell, I think that only a calm and dispassionate study of the question will make his innocence patent. What I’m interested in analyzing is the fact of how the reputation of innocent persons is tarnished with excessive facility, as has been the case of Pell and Ratzinger. What do they have in common? Both are scrupulously faithful to Catholic orthodoxy. There is room for the suspicion, in both cases, that it is a maneuver of the liberal wing of the Church to disqualify its orthodox counterpart. What is painful about the scandal is that very probably, in both cases, it could have been perpetrated or at least facilitated by persons of the Church herself, with an opposite vision to that of the Pope Emeritus and of Archbishop Pell.

What is <truly> going on with the case of the unjust accusation of Benedict XVI? It is distracting the attention from the really scandalous part of the Report — the people who were sadly abused –some of whom suffered during the mandate of the present reigning Archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx. In Pell’s case, he was trying to put order in the Vatican finances, which move became uncomfortable for certain individuals. Later, sadly, economic scandals came to light which led to the destitution of Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

In sum, the use of the expedient of pedophilia as a missile to discredit someone who represents a different position in the Church is very suspicious. In that sense, I think the guilty ones are not the media, as they do their work and, sadly, they also live the scandal, but the selective and de-contextualized leaks of incomplete information, which are facilitated to them.

As the stain of pedophilia is indelible, it’s then very difficult to restore the reputation of the one unjustly accused, as the shadow of suspicion will always hover over him. This is what is particularly painful in the case of Pope Benedict XVI who, together with Pope Francis, has been the one who has fought most to eradicate the leprosy of pedophilia in the Church. It is particularly grave because the calumny is directed not so much to him, now in his nineties, but to tarnish the lucidity of his work, to take away the shine of one of the most valuable cultural monuments of Christianity. Therefore, we faithful Catholics do good to huddle around the Pope Emeritus, praying to God that the truth is clarified, as we must not forget what Jesus says in the Gospel: “the truth will make you free.”

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester