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Trouble in the Old World
The chain of scandals now tightening around the Vatican began in Ireland last year with the publication of two government-commissioned reports concerning sexual abuse by priests and at schools and orphanages run by the church. Four of Ireland's 24 bishops offered their resignation. Since then, the Irish Primate, Cardinal Sean Brady, has admitted he met two young victims of a pedophile priest in 1975 and asked them to sign an oath of silence. The priest went on to molest children for almost two decades before being arrested and sent to prison. Brady is resisting calls for his resignation.
In Germany, the scandal started in late January, when the rector of Canisius College in Berlin admitted there had been at least 50 alleged cases of sexual abuse at the élite Jesuit high school in the 1970s and '80s. The charges came as a surprise; Catholics in mainland Europe rarely challenge the priesthood. "The church was always more tightly controlled in Europe," says Gibson. "There's not the same kind of legal and journalistic advocacy as in the U.S." But the Canisius College scandal opened the floodgates; with at least 300 allegations of abuse, it's now estimated that two-thirds of Germany's 27 Roman Catholic dioceses have been affected by the scandal.
Even the famous choir of Regensburg, led for 30 years by the Pope's brother Georg Ratzinger, was drawn into the scandal after former choirboys said they had endured brutal beatings and sexual abuse. Georg Ratzinger, now retired, said he was unaware of sexual-abuse cases but said he regretted slapping members of the choir. Franz Wittenbrink, a former singer who lived at the Regensburg boarding school connected with the choir from 1958 to 1967, tells TIME it is "unimaginable" that Ratzinger hadn't heard about sexual abuse during his time as director. Wittenbrink claims there was a "widespread system of sadistic punishments and sexual lust" at the school and in the choir.
Within the past few weeks, reports of abuse have been proliferating across Europe in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Poland, the home of Benedict's beloved predecessor. To Gibson, it is especially damaging to the Vatican that allegations are "coming out now in Bavaria and Austria, in the bastion of Old World Catholicism."
The case that has gotten the greatest attention embroils Benedict himself. As Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1980, he approved therapy for a priest who had been accused of molesting boys in the diocese of Essen. At the time, it was not uncommon for pedophiles to be prescribed therapy. But the priest was quickly allowed to return to pastoral duties, allowing him to continue abusing minors for several more years. He was convicted of sexual abuse in 1986 yet still he continued to work as a priest. (Ratzinger moved to Rome in 1982, long before the conviction.) The priest was finally exposed by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper last week. On March 12, the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising admitted in a statement that "serious mistakes were made in the 1980s." Three days later, the priest was suspended for breaching a church-imposed ban on working with children.