Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Benedict XVI and pedophilia

My heading does not refer to current events, but to a little known episode that occurred when Joseph Ratzinger was nine years old.

In July 1933 the Vatican (represented by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII) signed a Concordat with the Nazi government. Distrust persisted, however, as Catholics reacted to the neo-pagan aspects of the regime, while Hitler disliked the political side of Catholicism (the Center Party) as an independent power center, and potential site of resistance to his regime. Catholics objected to Nazi euthanasia, on right-to-life grounds.

Matters came to a head early in 1936 with the "Immorality" Trials, in which hundreds of priests, monks, lay brothers, and nuns were accused of "perverted and immoral lifestyles," code words for homosexuality and pedophilia. Parents were urged to withdraw their children from Catholic schools lest they be molested.

For a long time I thought these charges were just trumped up. To be sure, the Nazis engaged in some entrapment and other chicanery. However, as recent experience in Massachusetts and other states has shown, there may have been something to the accusations.

At any rate this background probably explains the anti-Nazi views of Ratzinger's father, who resented the attack on the Church. The memory may linger today in the son. It could help to account for the pope's evident ambivalence on the matter of priestly pedophilia. In 1997 Cardinal Ratzinger received credible evidence concerning pedophile behavior on the part of a Mexican youth leader, Father Marcial Maciel. John Paul II, it appears, wouldn't hear of investigating such a fine priest. So the matter was quashed. Now, however, Benedict XVI is reopening the case.

A historical irony is that the original base of Nazism was in south Germany and Austria. The Beer Hall Putsch was in Bavaria. But Catholic opposition initially prevented Hitler's triumph. It was only after Protestant north Germany went over to him that he was able to become chancellor in Jan. 1933. Hitler had reason to resent Catholics.



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