In an unusual move, last night the Vatican responded to several stories in the Times alleging that Joseph Ratzinger mishandled several sex abuse cases before he became Pope Benedict XVI, coverage that has thrown the international Church into turmoil.
The essay was penned by Cardinal William Levada, who succeeded the pope as head of the Vatican's doctrinal department. Levada made a plea for fairness for Pope Benedict under the headline "The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI: how it looks to an American in the Vatican," accusing Times religion reporter Laurie Goodstein "of anachronistic conflation" and of "rushing to a guilty verdict" against the Pope. Levada concluded:
As a full-time member of the Roman Curia, the governing structure that carries out the Holy See's tasks, I do not have time to deal with the Times's subsequent almost daily articles by Rachel Donadio and others, much less with Maureen Dowd's silly parroting of Goodstein's "disturbing report." But about a man with and for whom I have the privilege of working, as his "successor" Prefect, a pope whose encyclicals on love and hope and economic virtue have both surprised us and made us think, whose weekly catecheses and Holy Week homilies inspire us, and yes, whose pro-active work to help the Church deal effectively with the sexual abuse of minors continues to enable us today, I ask the Times to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on.
The Times reacted to Levada's post in a story by Rachel Donadio in Thursday's edition.
Cardinal Levada singled out several Times reporters and columnists for criticism, focusing particularly on an article describing failed efforts by Wisconsin church officials to persuade the Vatican to defrock a priest who had abused as many as 200 deaf boys from 1950 to 1974. The pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was head of the Vatican's doctrinal office when the case was referred there, in 1996.
He said the article wrongly "attributed the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of diocesan decisions at the time." On Wednesday, the archbishop of Milwaukee said the pope should not be held responsible for mistakes that were made in Wisconsin, according to The Associated Press.
News coverage of the abuse has clearly touched a nerve in the Vatican. As the church grapples with abuse cases that have come to light in several European countries, Benedict has come under scrutiny for how he and his subordinates handled sexual abuse allegations against priests while he served as an archbishop in Germany as well as when he was the Vatican's top doctrinal enforcer.