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A CATHOLIC MASS ISN’T normally a debating society, but sometimes enough is simply enough. At Sunday mass at the parish church in the Bavarian town of Bad Tölz, a pastor’s unspeakable past finally caught up with him. It was revealed last Friday that sixty-two year-old Pastor Peter H., who had been providing pastoral care at the church for the past two years, had been tried and convicted of sexual abuse in 1986. Not only had this conviction been kept secret, but the priest’s superior at one time – Joseph Ratzinger, the former Archbishop of Munich who is today better known as Pope Benedict XVI – had knowingly moved this known pedophile from parish to parish. He was finally sent to Bad Tölz in 2008 under the condition that he engage in no “children’s, youth, or altar boy work.” However, he did end up conducting two children’s services at the church and also took part in youth retreats.
As far as anyone knows, Peter H. did “nothing, absolutely nothing” wrong during his previous twenty-one year tenure in the town of Garching, nor is anything known about any inappropriate activities in Bad Tölz. Even so, Peter H.’s colleague, Pastor Rupert Frania, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, “I would like to have known about this earlier.”
At yesterday’s mass, Pastor Frania substituted for Peter H. and began a homily regarding his friend’s case. But as soon as he cited the example of the Prodigal Son and the need for forgiveness, the congregation rebelled. A young couple that was scheduled to be married by the disgraced priest got restless. It appears that they had just learned about the priest’s past from the media. “I can’t listen to this anymore!” the man shouted. “You can’t keep changing the subject!” According to the Süddeutsche, some of the mass goers applauded, others told him to shut up. A debate ensued. For several minutes the congregation discussed the case, and continued after the mass was over. Peter H. has been suspended, effective immediately. His supervisor has submitted his resignation.
The newspaper recently discovered that in 1980 Bishop Ratzinger approved the transfer of the pedophile priest to Bavaria to work in a new parish. The man had gotten an eleven year-old boy drunk and forced him to fellate him. Once in Bavaria he was once more caught in the act and put on trial. Peter H. was sentenced to eighteen months in prison and fined €4,000. In 1982, Ratzinger moved to Rome to become head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and essentially washed his hands of the matter.
This revelation is only the latest in an avalanche of appalling – and frankly mind-boggling – news for the Catholic Church in Germany and the rest of Europe. Ever since reports emerged of systematic sexual abuse at Berlin’s elite Canisius-Kolleg high school last January, stories of rape and fellatio perpetrated by Catholic priests in church-run institutions throughout the country have been bombarding the newspapers on a daily basis. It seems as if anyone who had ever been sodomized by a priest in the past fifty years has suddenly found his voice, making the Holy Catholic Church in this country appear like little more than a stiff-lipped pedophile ring.
But as usual in these cases, the cover-up is even worse than the crime, and for the first time the Pope himself has been implicated. The Church is closing ranks. Today, Archbishop Rino Fisichellal, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told the Corriere della Serra that “any attempt to draw the Pope and the entire Church into the abuse scandal is an act of violence and a sign of incivility. Benedict’s story, his life and his writings, speak for themselves.”
The pontiff is remaining silent on the charges against him, and this is probably a wise choice under the circumstances. There’s no knowing how much longer this crisis will last… and where it will stop. Just yesterday, new accusations were levelled at the management of the celebrated Regensburger Domspatzen boys’ choir, where it was reported that the endemic physical and sexual abuse the choirboys suffered there did not terminate in the 1960s, as previously believed, but continued at least until 1992. And who was the choir’s “extremely choleric and hot-tempered” director in those years? None other than Georg Ratzinger, the Pope’s elder brother.
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