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Did Pope Benedict Have a Role in Covering Up Child Rape By Pedophile Priests?

The Catholic Church is a complicated political and legal entity with its own logic of accountability: priests who ordain women, like Father Roy Bourgeois, are excommunicated without ceremony, and priests who molest children, or aid in covering up the activities of such priests, are kept in the church, if not promoted. Before he was pope, Joseph Ratzinger acted was a top Vatican official, helping to re-locate a priest who sexually abused over 200 deaf boys. It’s impossible to adequately assess his papacy without discussing his role in covering up priests’ sexual abuse of children for decades, and prioritizing the public image of the Church over the well being of thousands of children.  

The late atheist Christopher Hitchens was one of Ratzinger's harshest critics, especially when it came to the church's policy of self-policing:

“The accusations, intoned Ratzinger, were only treatable within the church's own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated "in the most secretive way ... restrained by a perpetual silence ... and everyone ... is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication.”

While acknowledging his role in the 1970s in the handling of priests who had molested children, as well as his conservative stance on many social issues, the National Catholic Reporter calls Benedict XVI a “teaching pope,” a leader more concerned with the internal needs of the Church than taking a stance on political controversy. Ultimately, however, Benedict XVI taught the Church and the wider world about the role of those in power:  they must pay close attention to the workings of their organization, and take action when necessary. Benedict XVI’s initial dismissal of the information about these cases may have saved the Church’s image for a brief period, but his logic of accountability made bureaucratic agency a priority over the well beings of Catholic children around the world.  No matter his flaws and his strengths, Benedict’s XVI role as an administrator must be remembered, and learned from to make the Catholic Church a safer place for all those who practice its faith. 

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