How to write a news piece on the German abuse scandal and the Pope’s involvement

We have seen in the MSM some dreadul stories trying to lead readers to think the worst about the Pope without any real evidence.  Insinuation at its worst, for it concerns not just a person, but a sacred person.

Here is a contrast.

In a CNA story (with my emphases and comments) we have a different approach:

Accused Munich priest resigns in sex abuse case wrongly linked to Pope [wrongly]

Munich, Germany, Mar 17, 2010 / 03:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Tourism chaplain for the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising has been immediately suspended from ministry after more allegations that he sexual abused minors. While some news reports have tried to link Pope Benedict XVI to the charges, a subordinate in the archdiocese has claimed responsibility for failures in responding to the case.  [It is necessary to repeat here something not mentioned in any news stories I have read.  The role of the Vicar General in German dioceses is very strong.  They handle most personnel issues for the bishop.]

A statement from the archdiocese said that it had been presented with evidence the clergyman committed sexual abuse since an episode in 1986.

The accused, known as Priest H., had held youth services and took young people camping despite a ban on his contact with children, says.

Archbishop of Munich and Freising Bernhard Kellner on Monday announced that he would be suspended from service with “immediate effect.”

Priest H. reportedly abused at least two children in Essen in 1979 and in Bavaria in 1985. He was sentenced to 18 months probation in the latter case.

One victim, 41-year-old Wilfried Fesselmann, is from Gelsenkirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia. He said that he was 11 at the time of the alleged abuse.

According to Fesselmann, the priest invited “nice children” to sleep in the rectory. Priest H. gave Fesselman an alcoholic drink and forced him to perform an oral sex act.

Priest H.’s superior, Prelate [This is "Monsignor".  "Prelat" is the German title for Monsignor.] Josef Obermaier, resigned on Monday. A spokesman for the archdiocese said he accepts responsibility for “serious errors in the course of his supervision.”

Some media reports have tried to link Pope Benedict XVI to the scandal because he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising between 1977 and 1982.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See’s Press Office, released a statement on Saturday morning on the issue. He said that a recent communiqué from the Archdiocese of Munich answers questions about Priest H. He stressed that the document shows [NB] that as archbishop the future Pope Benedict was completely "extraneous" to the decisions made after the abuses were verified[This is because the Vicar General handled it.]

The archdiocese said during Pope Benedict’s tenure as archbishop Priest H. was in the pastoral care of the vicar general at the time, Fr. Gerhard Gruber.

"Gruber assumes full responsibility for these mistaken decisions," the archdiocese reported.

Fr. Lombardi’s statement also criticized media coverage of the charges.

"It’s rather evident that in recent days there are those who have sought – with a certain tenacity, in Regensburg and in Munich – elements for personally involving the Holy Father in the questions of the abuses. For every objective observer, it’s clear that these efforts have failed."

The Vatican spokesman concluded by reaffirming that "despite the tempest," the Church sees the course to follow "under the sure and rigorous guide of the Holy Father."


This news piece had facts, but no false allegations.

Please note. 

A few days ago a priest who once worked in the Washington DC nuntiature made the unfounded claim that Pope Benedict certainly was involved with the decisions about this abusive priest.  That priest, Fr. Doyle, also said that Pope Benedict is a "micro-manager".

In turn, that same errant claim was picked up by Christopher Hitchens for a truly vile hit piece on Slate.

Fr. Doyle therefore did terrible damage to the Holy Father’s reputation.

First, anyone who knows anything about Joseph Ratzinger personally, knows that he is not a micro-manager.  Quite the opposite is true.  He is the supreme delegator.  Furthermore, and this bears repeating, the role of the Vicar General in German dioceses includes most personnel decisions.  There will be times when the chapter and ordinary are involved, but mostly the VG handles these matter.  This would be particularly the case with then-Archbiship Ratzinger of Munich, who is not a micro-manager, but rather tends to delegate administrative decisions.

It perhaps may be claimed that the future Pope ought to have been more involved in this case because it was such a serious situation. 

However, it is absurd to claim that the Pope was involved based on false judgments about the Pope’s the management style coupled with a misunderstanding of the way German dioceses usually work.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Joseph says:

    One wonders, what was Fr. Thomas Doyle motive here. It is so very sad. It reminds me of a certain Judas. [I think that goes a bit too far.] Would he see that in this light?
    We surely have to pray fervently for our priests.

  2. swamp_rabbit says:

    This is the piece I read this morning. Thank you, father, for responding with such a clear head.

  3. For St. Patrick’s Day, the Holy Father gave a special shout-out this morning at his audience to people from Ireland. He also mentioned the terrible child abuse scandal there, and asked people to pray for the Church in Ireland.

  4. I forgot to say that the pope said he was sending a pastoral letter or something to Ireland, and that he asked Irish folks to read it. I thought maybe it wasn’t news, but apparently it is, because the story’s only on Zenit in Italian, as yet; and the letter’s actually coming out on the 19th. I guess the protection of kids is a St. Joseph issue.

  5. Childermass says:

    Fr. Doyle is a theological dissenter. I saw him speak in the sex abuse documentary “Deliver Us from Evil” about the need to overturn the “institutional Church.” Undermining the pope is a good way to work toward that.

  6. S. Murphy says:

    Fr Doyle has apparently been aware of the various abuse scandals since the 80s. He’s supposed to have advised the bishops back then to do something about it, and was ignored. His ‘dissent’ may be more disillusionment with the bishops. If he’s seen the ‘institutional Church,’ meaning the bishops, at their worst, he may have reasons for being bitter. Even if his reaction is wrong, we need to pray for him. Maybe even more so, if he knowingly slandered the Pope.

  7. I sense a growing danger for the Holy Father! We need to pray for him and for Father Doyle.

  8. Tom in NY says:

    The original story ran in “Bild,” a picture- and sports-oriented paper; it was booked on the ‘net near midnight (GMT+1)the 15th-16th.

    The “money” quote follows: “Gestern trat sein Vorgesetzter, Prälat Josef Obermaier, zurück. Laut Bistumssprecher „übernimmt er damit die Verantwortung für gravierende Fehler in der Wahrnehmung seiner Dienstaufsicht“.” “Yesterday, his superior, Prelate J. Obermaier, resigned. The diocesan spokesman, ‘he took responsibility for grave mistakes in the perception of the service of his oversight.’ ”
    (And you thought translating Latin to English led to rough results.)
    Readers can search for “Kellner” & “Munchen.”
    Freundliche Leser, besser diese Textstelle uebersetzen moechten Sie gern?
    Salutationes omnibus.

  9. Seumas says:

    According to a Catholic World News article, this priest wasn’t even given a parish assignment until seven months after Cardinal Ratzinger left his post as Archbishop of Munich for the CDF.

    So, the Holy Father could not have been involved in that decision in any case.

  10. Bruce says:

    Everyone has to read Rex Murphy’s response to Christopher Hitchin’s rant against the Pope:

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