An ‘Ignoble Attempt’ to Smear the Pope?

The Vatican is lashing out at mounting news reports suggesting that, before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger used his positions to cover up the the church’s sex abuse scandals, with little regard for the child victims of the abusers or the law. A Vatican spokesperson denounced the reporting as an “ignoble attempt” to smear the pope “at any cost.”

In fact, increased U.S. media interest in the pope’s role in church scandals should be a welcome development. Following Benedict’s 2008 visit to the U.S.–intended, among other things, to address the abuse scandals–Extra! (7-8/08) chided U.S. media for fawning coverage of the pope, and particularly for its failure to mention Ratzinger’s key role in the scandals.

Extra! cited one London Observer report (8/17/03) that revealed that in 2001, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican agency charged with addressing the church’s sexual abuse scandals, Ratzinger sent a secret directive to bishops worldwide, threatening automatic excommunication for any Catholic official who discussed pending abuse cases outside the churchâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s legal system.

Another Observer story (4/24/05) reported that, in 1994, Ratzinger personally dismissed charges of sex abuse against Father Marcial Maciel, the head of an influential conservative seminary in Mexico and a personal confidant to then-Pope John Paul II. Maciel was accused of abusing several children over decades. According to the Observer, Ratzinger told a reporter at the time, “One can’t put on trial such a close friend of the pope.” (Twelve years later, on the eve of his elevation to the papacy, Ratzinger reopened the investigation of Maciel, later asking the aging priest to resign.)

Recent Vatican attacks on the media echo earlier Vatican media assaults by Ratzinger himself. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 2001, Ratzinger dismissed coverage of scandals as anti-church bigotry (Zenit, 12/3/02), calling it a “a planned campaign” to smear the church. In that regard, little has changed. What has changed, thankfully, is that the U.S. media seem to be paying more attention now. Let’s hope media interest doesn’t flag in the face of church attacks.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.