Editor’s Note: Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was best known for resisting liberalization of Catholic Church orthodoxy. He was a staunch enemy of reforms that would have given women greater power within the Church, softened the hostility toward adult homosexuality, and abandoned the insistence on clerical celibacy.

Yet, while guarding the Vatican gates against forces of modernity, Cardinal Ratzinger also was covering up the global scandal of priests sexually abusing boys, a failure that – in the eyes of Marquette Professor of Moral Theology Daniel C. Maguire – now requires the pope to submit his resignation:

Nothing matches what happened in my city of Milwaukee, with over 200 deaf boys repeatedly molested and raped by Rev. Lawrence Murphy, a priest who was never punished and who was buried, after a lifetime of child rape, with full priestly honors.

Pope Benedict XVI now faces a major hypocrisy test. He has been accepting resignations from bishops around the world who failed to take action against priest rapists. It is now no longer in dispute that he himself is guilty of the same criminal negligence in the Milwaukee case and in Germany when he was archbishop.

The pope can only serve the church by resigning. If he were in charge of some secular institution, he would be forced to resign and be subject to criminal prosecution. He has no moral right to hide behind Vatican walls.

What makes this a perfect storm is the list of rogue actors in this crime spree. It involves the current pope, a Vatican cardinal, two members of the Papal Apostolic Delegature, three Milwaukee archbishops, and – something that is usually overlooked in press accounts of these abuse cases – the collusion of the local police and the District Attorney. 

However, this time at least, the press did its job. The Milwaukee Journal examined the case, even as the church hierarchy did not, nor did the local D.A. These failures – and the apparent church/state cover-up – should be investigated by the current District Attorney in Milwaukee.

It’s also now clear that this is not a localized problem. It is a global Catholic Church pandemic.

Yet, the Vatican is still engaged in cover-ups of these crimes by attacking the press, trying to kill the messenger who brings the bad but true news.

The reason offered by bishops for not reporting these horrors publicly was that it would have caused “scandal.” However, scandal in that case is a fraudulent misnomer. It is code for “public relations disaster.” Hierarchical efforts to claim the priest criminals were only a few bad apples – and the failure to report the crimes to law enforcement – is the scandal.

The concern was for the church’s image, not for the victims, nor for the violations of law.

The pope and the bishops involved worldwide in these criminal cases are, ironically, the same people who say that no woman can be ordained or hold a position of ecclesiastical power. Have these men not left us with the conclusion that it’s time for the women to take over? 

Ironically also, these same men say that two gay adults who love one another and seek to commit themselves to one another in a permanent exclusive marriage may not do so. In the view of the Catholic hierarchy, that would be a “scandal.”

The pope and the bishops are also the ones who insist that all who serve as priests must be celibate. All these stories of sexual abuse prove that enforced celibacy is a failed discipline.

A priesthood based on a requirement never to fall in love or have the enriching experience of parenthood is unrealistic and an invitation to pathology. There is a reason why rabbis, ministers and imams -- who are allowed to marry -- are not filling the press with a comparable parade of horrors.

Celibacy is not a bona fide occupational qualification for priesthood or ministry. Of course, enforced celibacy is not the only factor behind these terrible crimes but that it is a factor is beyond any doubt.

An Italian editor with whom I worked was on a train in Italy and was joined in the dining room by a Monsignor from the Vatican. The editor found the Monsignor very urbane, knowledgeable and sophisticated. He felt prompted to broach some delicate issues of church reform.

He asked: “The Church would be greatly helped if there were reform on issues such as birth control and priestly celibacy.”

The mood changed. The Monsignor stiffened and blurted out: “We may die but we will not change!” The Monsignor might have uttered an all too accurate prophecy.

Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached at daniel.maguire@marquette.edu.

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