Papal response acknowledges scandal is a ‘test’, but attacks New York Times for series of articles
Thursday 1 April 2010 18.24 BST
By VERONIKA OLEKSYN
Senior Catholic officials today apologised and asked for forgiveness as they sought to repair the damage caused by the sex abuse scandal engulfing the church.
In Austria and Switzerland archbishops and bishops marked the start of Easter by appealing to parishioners to come forward with their allegations, and admitting to past mistakes when dealing with claims.
A spokesman for Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that the international scandal over sex abuse by priests is a “test for him and the church”, but the papal response mingled contrition with forthright defiance.
Vatican officials have become increasingly outspoken in their defence of the pope and the Catholic hierarchy’s behaviour towards victims and offenders.
Today a Vatican spokesman took aim at the New York Times, which has published a series of explosive stories on what the pope may or may not have known about a cover-up involving a paedophile priest. Cardinal William Levada, who succeeded the pope as head of the doctrinal department, accused the newspaper of going into “attack mode” in its coverage of the pope and said that it should “give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on”.
The archbishop of Vienna, who caused a storm last month by suggesting that priestly celibacy may be to blame for paedophilia in the church, led a service at St Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna last night, where thousands of people vented their fury at the church.
At a mass held for victims, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn listened to accounts of sexual abuse or physical punishment in Catholic institutions.
Afterwards he acknowledged that some individuals in the church exploited their position, were sexually violent and placed the reputation of the church above everything else.
“Some of us have talked about the gracious God and yet done evil to those who were entrusted to them. Some of us have used sexual violence … some of us have robbed boys and girls of their childhood. For some of us, the church’s immaculate appearance was more important than anything else.
“We confess our guilt to the many whom we have wronged as a church, and whom some of us have wronged very directly.”
Earlier this week it was revealed that an Austrian abuse phoneline had received 566 separate abuse claims since its launch in January. Local reports said a quarter related to sexual abuse, another quarter involved physical abuse and the remaining number required further investigation.
Last weekend, amid growing public disquiet over the ability of the church to investigate its own priests, Schönborn announced an independent commission to examine historic cases.
There are fears that the scandal in Austria could lead to a record number of defections that would exceed the 2009 figure, when 53,000 people left the church.
Across the border in Switzerland bishops confessed to underestimating the scale of the abuse and apologised for their failings. A statement from the Swiss bishops’ conference said: “We humbly admit that we underestimated the extent of the situation. Those in charge of the diocese and religious orders made mistakes.”
It also called on those who had suffered abuse to come forward with their claims and, if necessary, press charges.
Aside from a lengthy pastoral letter to victims in the Irish Republic, the pope has made little direct reference to clerical sexual abuse recently in public.
On Palm Sunday, following several attempts to link him to a cover-up in Germany, he said he would not be “intimidated by the chatter of dominant opinions”, a swipe at those calling for his resignation.
The pope has a gruelling Easter schedule, including a torchlit procession this evening and a major address on Easter Sunday.
Austrian cardinal defends pope over abuse scandal
2010-04-01 11:28 PM
By VERONIKA OLEKSYN
Austria’s top Catholic on Thursday defended the pope against suggestions he was involved in the cover-up of abuse, a day after he acknowledged church guilt in a clergy sex scandal.
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said Pope Benedict XVI had a very clear anti-cover up policy while he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and that this did not always find favor in the Vatican.
“I can say with certainty that, in his role as chief of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had a very clear line of not covering up, but clearing up,” Schoenborn said.
In recent weeks, abuse allegations against Catholic clergy and institutions have surfaced in various European countries _ including Austria. The controversy has raised questions about the pope’s role in keeping cases quiet.
Schoenborn _ who has known Benedict for 37 years and is one of his confidantes _ said earlier this week that the pope, in his previous role, had immediately pushed for an investigative commission when abuse allegations arose against the late Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer.
However, he said, the “diplomatic track” in the Vatican did not let this happen. Groer was forced to resign in 1995 over claims he had molested youths at a monastery in the 1970s.
Schoenborn commented to reporters Thursday after meeting with Waltraud Klasnic, the newly appointed head of a church-funded commission tasked with clearing up Austrian abuse claims.
The former regional governor pledged to work independently and listen to everyone.
“There is no one in this country I can’t look in the eye, and there is no one in the country I don’t want to talk to,” Klasnic said.
Critics _ including victims _ contend she is the wrong person for the post because she has close ties to the church.
Austrian Catholics appear to have become increasingly disillusioned by the ongoing allegations.
According to the Austria Press Agency, dioceses across the country have recorded increases in the number of people turning their back on the church. In the southern city of Graz, a thousand people formally left last month alone, APA reported.
“For many people, this is the last straw,” said Kurt Remele, associate professor for ethics and Catholic social thought at the University of Graz.
Late Wednesday, Schoenborn sought to make amends by admitting that some in the church took advantage and destroyed the trust of children, were sexually violent and considered the image of the church most important.