Benedict’s critics ‘want a scapegoat’ after report on handling of historical sex abuse claims, says Vatican

The Vatican has hit back at critics of former Pope Benedict, under scrutiny over his handling of sex abuse in Germany decades ago, accusing them of seeking a scapegoat over what should be a “collective examination” of the Church’s past.

he Vatican waited six days to issue yesterday’s substantive response following last Thursday’s report on abuse in the Munich archdiocese from 1945 to 2019.

That report said the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger failed to take action against clerics in four cases of alleged abuse when he was the city’s archbishop between 1977-1982.

In a commentary, the Vatican’s editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, strongly defended Benedict’s record from when he left Germany to become the Vatican’s doctrinal chief and later as pope from 2005 to 2013.

“Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had already fought the phenomenon in the last phase of the pontificate of St John Paul II and once he became Pope, promulgated very harsh norms against clerical abusers, special laws to combat paedophilia,” Mr Tornielli wrote in the Vatican’s official media outlets.

Presenting the church-commissioned report last week, lawyer Martin Pusch had said Ratzinger had done nothing against the abuse in four cases and there appeared no interest shown in injured parties.

In his commentary, Mr Tornielli said reconstructions of long-ago events contained in the Munich report “will help to combat paedophilia in the Church if these are not reduced to the search for easy scapegoats and summary judgements”.

On Monday, Benedict (94) acknowledged he had been at a 1980 meeting over a sexual abuse case in Munich, saying he mistakenly told German investigators he was not there.

His private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, said Benedict did attend the meeting but the omission “was the result of an oversight in the editing” of an 82-page statement sent earlier to the German investigators.

The lawyers said, when presenting their report, the former pope’s earlier insistence he had not been at the 1980 meeting was contradicted by written records.

Mr Tornielli said it was no surprise the period concerning when Ratzinger was archbishop “monopolised the attention of commentators” on the Munich report.

He said a rush to judgement and scapegoating had to be avoided so everyone could “contribute to the search for justice in truth and to a collective examination of conscience on errors of the past”.

Separately in Rome yesterday Pope Francis has urged parents not to condemn their children if they are gay, in his latest gesture of outreach to the LGBTQ community which has long been marginalised by the Catholic hierarchy.

The pontiff spoke off the cuff during his weekly Wednesday general audience. Francis said he was thinking in particular about parents who are confronted with “sad” situations in their children’s lives.

Citing parents who have to cope with children who are sick, imprisoned or who get killed in car accidents, Pope Francis said: “Parents who see that their children have different sexual orientations, how they manage that and accompany their children and not hide behind a condemning attitude.”

“Never condemn a child,” he also said.

Official church teaching calls for gay men and lesbians to be respected and loved, but considers homosexual activity “intrinsically disordered”.

Francis, though, has sought to make the Church more welcoming to gays, most noticeably with his 2013 comment: “Who am I to judge?”

He also has spoken of his own ministry to gay and transgender people, insisting they are children of God, loved by God and deserving of accompaniment by the Church.

Francis has also made several gestures of outreach to the gay Catholic community and their advocates, including a recent letter congratulating an American nun once sanctioned by the Vatican, Sr Jeannine Gramick, on her 50 years of LGBTQ ministry.

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