Seven months after leaving the papacy, emeritus Pope Benedict XVI broke his self-imposed silence Tuesday by releasing a letter to one of Italy’s best-known atheists in which he denied covering up for sexually abusive priests and defended Christianity to non-believers.
For nearly a quarter-century, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office responsible for handling abuse cases. He was prefect when the scandal first exploded in the U.S. in 2002 and was pope when it erupted on a global scale in 2010 with revelations of thousands of victims in Europe and beyond, of bishops who covered up for pedophile priests and of Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the crimes and in some cases actively interfered with bishops trying to report pedophiles to police.
In his letter, Benedict denies personal responsibility. “I never tried to cover these things up,” he wrote.
“That the power of evil penetrated so far into the interior world of the faith is a suffering that we must bear, but at the same time, we must do everything to prevent it from repeating,” he wrote, according to Repubblica. “Neither is it comforting to know that, according to research, the percentage of priests who commit these crimes isn’t any higher than the percentage of other similar professions. Regardless, one shouldn’t present this deviation as if it were something specific to Catholicism.”
No, sex abuse isn’t specifically a Catholic problem—something we Pennsylvanians know all too well after the scandal at Penn State. Still, it’s kind of hard to avoid the idea that Benedict should know better: He’s the one that offers up the comparison between the priesthood and other professions. The difference between the priesthood and, say, selling cars is that only one of those professions is responsible for nurturing the souls of its customers. Priests get held to a higher standard, and that’s perfectly appropriate! We’re judging them against their service to a loving God, not how many widgets they sell per quarter. If Benedict wants us to judge the Catholic Church by secular standards, the church will lose many more battles than it is already.