For twenty-four years the archconservative, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—formerly the Holy Office of the Inquisition. As the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, he earned the monikers, “God’s Rottweiler” and “panzer cardinal.” It was his job to enforce doctrinal purity, both within the clerical rank and the rank and file … a task he performed with an apostolic zeal bordering on mania.
In 2002, when the scope of the pedophile priest scandal in the United States was becoming too obvious for even the Vatican to continue to ignore, Rottweiler Ratzinger claimed that the sexual abuse allegations against Catholic clergy were part of a “planned campaign” that was “intentional [and] manipulated” to discredit the church. Whose campaign he didn’t say, but his short list probably included the pro-choice and gay rights lobbies.
On April 19, 2005, in an arcane rite of “transubstantiation” known only to the College of Cardinals, the rabid Rottweiler Ratzinger became, with a puff of white smoke, the kindly, thoughtful Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th Bishop of Rome and leader of one billion Catholics worldwide.
During Benedict’s million-dollar-a-day junket to the United States, a trip that the Vatican admits is a P.R. opportunity to change a German Rottweiler into an American Golden Retriever, the mystery of pedophile priests was cleared up … sort of.
According to Benedict, it is America’s “increasingly secular and materialistic culture” that caused priests to fondle and rape children. Keep in mind that the “materialistic” remark is coming from a guy who has been seen sporting a pair of custom-cobbled red shoes, Gucci sunglasses, ceremonial gowns by Gamarelli, and listening to an iPod Nano while tens of millions of Catholics worldwide struggle to feed their families, much less put shoes on their feet or sunglasses on their faces.
One can also suppose that the bishops who knew of the abuse and did nothing other than transfer the pedophiles to other parishes, where they continued to molest children, were suffering from the same demonic secular possession as the priests.
According to a 2002 study conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, 4,392 Catholic priests and deacons in the United States have been accused of sexual abuse of children since 1950, leaving an estimated 13,000 victims and over 2 billion dollars in lawsuits—money that could have been spent feeding and clothing and “sunglassing” tens of millions of destitute, but tithing, Catholics.
A “penitent” Benedict said that he was “deeply ashamed” of the pedophile priests who scandalized the Catholic Church in the U.S. He said, “It is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the Church in general and for me personally that this could happen.” He did not dwell on the suffering of the 13,000 victims, one of whom described what happened to her as an “abuse of her soul.”
The “Golden Retriever” wagged his tail as he asked 67 million U.S. Catholics to create an atmosphere of healing and reconciliation for the victims while the “Rottweiler” tugged at his chain with a not-so-subtle admonition, “Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do.” In other words, “Lay off! There aren’t enough priests to go around as it is.”
A good number of the abuse victims were not healed by Benedict’s anemic apology. Becky Ianni, who was abused by her parish priest from age 9 to 11, said, “He talks about feeling shame for the scandal but it’s a far cry from the shame that victims have had to live with our entire lives. We don’t really need his sense of shame, we need him to take firm actions to correct the situation.”
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the website, Bishop Accountability, which documents sexual abuse, said that words are cheap, but action has a price and she is skeptical that Benedict is willing to ante up.
Doyle wants the church hierarchy that sheltered pedophile priests from the law and allowed them to continue to abuse the bodies and souls of Catholic children to be held accountable, “Rather than shifting attention to pedophile priests, he needs to focus on the culpability of bishops. The crisis occurred because many U.S. bishops were willing to hide their priests’ crimes from the police with lies.”
So far Benedict, who is the only church official with the authority to discipline bishops for their role in perpetuating the sexual abuse, has failed to do so. Only a sucker’s bet says he will.
While Benedict is in his Retriever coat, there are a number of other people to whom he needs to apologize: to gays whom he called emotionally immature and homosexuality “objectively disordered;” to the 50 percent of Catholics whose gender disqualifies them for the priesthood; to impoverished mothers who continue to have children they can ill afford because of the Rottweiler’s dogmatic stance against family planning and birth control; to the tens of millions of tithing Catholics who live in squalid poverty while he lives in opulence on their nickels.
While a “kindly” Pope Benedict XVI can get away with blaming priestly pedophilia on someone else’s secularism, all the other sorrow caused by his doctrinal intransigence rests squarely in Joseph Ratzinger’s gilded lap.
So who is the real Bishop of Rome, the Rottweiler or the Retriever? A few words of caution should inform one’s rumination on that mystery. Zebras never change their stripes and dogs only rarely change their dispositions.