Jimmy Akin of the National Catholic Register surmises:

This creates a situation where we don’t really know what Ratzinger’s involvement was. In the documentation presented by the New York Times Ratzinger never replies. It’s always Bertone who does so. Bertone (not Ratzinger) even chairs a meeting at the Vatican on the matter.

Did Cardinal Ratzinger even see the initial letter regarding Murphy? Maybe. Or maybe it was given to Bertone as part of his role as show-runner. Maybe the mail room at the CDF automatically gives correspondence addressed to the Cardinal Prefect to the Secretary, who serves as his filter. I don’t know. (Maybe someone who knows such things can clarify in the combox. Please cite sources.)

One can fault any number of things about process or policy in this case, but we don’t have evidence that Ratzinger did anything in bad conscience.

(Hat tip: Aggie Catholics). I think this is the best defense available in the Murphy case where Weakland clearly bears most of the responsibility, but again it relies on the Vatican being so removed from the issue that it took nine months for the CDF to respond in 1996, and it relies on subordinates taking moral responsibility for everything the current Pope once did or said. I think that kind of shifting of responsibility makes sense in a large corporation, or even in a corrupt government (see: Abu Ghraib), but I also believe - mirabile dictu - that the church has a moral duty to behave better than a large, self-interested corporation or corrupt, secretive government. I actually believe it should lead by example in cases like, er, the rape of children by its own employees covered up by its own officials.

I guess this is now a minority view among those most attached to eternal, unchanging moral values. It's very odd - and deeply revealing - to see theocons dancing with moral relativism and cultural context on the issue of child abuse. But my question is less about the Murphy case than the Hullerman case. In the latter, it's clear that Benedict was the equivalent of Weakland in the Murphy case. He had a priest under his direct authority known to have raped children under his care; and Ratzinger knew this, did not contact the cops, personally authorized the transfer of the child-rapist to therapy and thereafter to parish work where he was subsequently convicted of child-abuse and rape.

I don't want to sound self-righteous, but if I knew I had done that, for whatever motive, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night.

The knowledge that I had enabled someone - by negligence or institutional loyalty - to rape a child when I could have stopped it would be something that would cripple my conscience. I would not subsequently dismiss these issues as "petty gossip." I don't think I could ever recover from it - until I had somehow found a way to repair what I could of the wound I had helped inflict. Until I had found every victim and seen what i could do. And I'm just a weird gay sinful wayward Catholic - a black sinful marginal sheep in a large flock who refuses to leave entirely.

Shouldn't the Pope be holier than me, for Pete's sake? Or if he isn't, could he not acknowledge - as Peter did in Jesus' darkest hour - that he let Our Lord down, that he is as much a sinner as all of us - maybe even a greater sinner? That he allowed something quite terrible to happen to innocent children? That he doesn't merely regret it, but repents it?

Until that happens, this basic truth remains: the moral authority of Catholic church's central authority is over. The only two options are denial and defensive p.r. (the current knee-jerk response) or open repentance and total transparency, led from the top.

As average Catholics, this seems to me something that we have to try and insist upon. Because once all moral authority falters, it is very hard to regain. It may be lost for generations. And this is our church too.

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