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Benedict XVI’s long battle against sex abuse in the Church


Before the year 2001, dioceses were the ones in charge of investigating sex abuse by members of the clergy, not the Vatican. Sometimes, this caused delays and in the end the internal process was slow and produced little results.

As a solution, in 2001, John Paul II assigned the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to investigate all sex abuse allegations. Then, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the main person supervising sex abuse clean up in the Church.

Ratzinger was criticized at the time for taking quick action against priests in the cases where the evidence was all too clear. In other words, he dismissed those priests without a trial. Since then, this direct punishment rule has been applied to 60% of all 3,000 cases that have reached the Vatican. In fact only 20% of all cases have gone to trial because 10% of priests were immediately dismissed and another 10% resigned.

According to Allen, once pope, Joseph Ratzinger decided one of his priorities was to put a stop to sex abuse.

Even though he faced resistance, during the first year of his pontificate, he condemned two high-profile priests for sex abuse. One of them was Gino Burresi, an Italian priest and founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, the other was Marcial Maciel, the Mexican priest and founder the Legionaries of Christ.

Benedict XVI is also the first pope to meet with victims of sex abuse. The first time was in 2008 during a trip to the U.S; followed by another meeting in Australia a couple of months later.

He is also the first pope in history who has confronted clerical sex abuse with a special document: a pastoral letter addressed to Catholics in Ireland in May 2010. In it, the pope said eh felt betrayed by the bishops. The international media praised the letter.

John Allen explains that the sex abuse crisis has two aspects: the priests who committed the crimes; and the bishops covering for them. In his opinion, Benedict XVI policy has lead to a decrease in the number of abuse cases. But there’s still room for more action and measures against bishops who over the years have ignored the norms of the Church.