THE NEW YORK TIMES
March 27, 2010
As Archbishop, Benedict Focused on Doctrine
By KATRIN BENNHOLD and NICHOLAS KULISH
Yet in 1979, the year before Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, approved the Rev. Peter Hullermann’s move to
Pope Benedict’s four-and-a-half-year tenure as archbishop is among the least-examined periods of his life, but his time presiding over 1,713 priests and 2.2 million Catholics was in many ways a dress rehearsal for his present job tending to the Roman Catholic Church’s more than one billion members worldwide.
As archbishop, Benedict expended more energy pursuing theological dissidents than sexual predators. Already in the early 1980s, one could catch a glimpse of a future pope preoccupied with combating any movement away from church tradition. Vatican experts say there is little evidence that Benedict spent much time investigating more than 200 cases of “problem priests” in the diocese, with issues including alcohol abuse, adultery and, now under the microscope, pedophilia.
“His natural habitat was the faculty lounge, and he hadn’t even been a faculty chair,” said John L. Allen Jr. of The National Catholic Reporter. “He would be the first to concede he was much more interested in the life of the mind than the nuts and bolts of administrative work.”
Andreas Englisch, a leading German Vatican expert and the author of several books on Benedict, said that Cardinal Ratzinger “was never interested in bureaucratic stuff,” and noted that when he was first asked to be archbishop of
His management decisions are now the central focus of the widening scandal in the church in
“He certainly would not have realized anything; he was in a different sphere,” said Hannes Burger, 72, who covered the church, including during Benedict’s time as archbishop, for the Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“He held beautiful sermons and wrote beautifully, but the details he left to his staff,” said Mr. Burger, who interviewed the future pope several times before he went to
Three decades ago it was common practice in the church to ignore or cover up incidents of molestation, or, in severe cases, to transfer priests to faraway parishes. Even outside the church, both victims and law enforcement authorities were less likely to take decisive steps to expose and combat abuse.
But Benedict’s track record in handling such cases under his direct control has assumed new relevance because he presides over a church troubled by scandal. He has to weigh whether and how severely to punish bishops who failed to act to deal with abuses in their domains.
In fact, in his efforts to combat child abuse in 2010, Benedict faces a dilemma over how to handle the same kind of institutional secrecy that was practiced by his own archdiocese in 1980. The future pope himself chose “co-workers of the truth,” as the motto for his time as archbishop.
The case is alarming, wrote the German newspaper Die Zeit last week, not “because Ratzinger was guilty of an exceptional offense.”
“It is the other way around: It is significant because the archbishop acted as probably most other dignitaries in those years,” it wrote. “In 1980 Joseph Ratzinger was part of the problem that preoccupies him today.”
Benedict was a stern disciplinarian on the issue that propelled him up the church hierarchy. An early enthusiast for reform in the Catholic Church in the early 1960s, he soon changed his mind and joined the ranks of those trying to put the brakes on the liberalizing forces unleashed by the counterculture movement.
His time in
Cardinal Ratzinger ruffled feathers almost upon arrival in Munich by ordering priests to return to celebrating First Communion and first confession in the same year, rather than having the first confession a year later, a practice that had become established over the previous decade, and which its advocates considered more appropriate for young children.
One priest, the Rev. Wilfried Sussbauer, said he wrote to the archbishop at the time questioning the change, and said Cardinal Ratzinger “wrote me an extremely biting letter” in response.
After receiving the letter, Father Sussbauer and other priests asked for an audience with their archbishop in 1977. They did not get one. But the visiting sister of President Jimmy Carter did. When the priests found out, they called Cardinal Ratzinger’s office. “We asked, ‘Who is more important, your own priests or the sister of the American president?’ ” Father Sussbauer, 77, recalled. “Then suddenly we got an appointment.”
Cardinal Ratzinger was already something of a clerical diplomat, traveling as the official representative of Pope John Paul I to
“His predecessor as archbishop was simply more aware of the practical problems of pastoral work,” said Wolfgang Seibel, a Jesuit priest and editor of the Munich-based magazine Stimmen der Zeit from 1966 to 1998. “He didn’t have enough time to leave his mark.”
How closely he would have watched personnel decisions, especially with an administrative chief, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, who had been in his post since 1968, is an open question. But the transfer of Father Hullermann from
Mr. Englisch, the Vatican expert, said that transferring a problem priest was “such a difficult decision” that it would necessarily have required his opinion.
“I think the guy who handled it would have gone to his archbishop and said, ‘This case of transferring a priest is not common, and we should really have an eye on him,’ ” Mr. Englisch said. Referring to Benedict, he added, “I don’t think that he really knew the details; I don’t think he was really interested in the details.”
“As they say in the legal profession, you either knew or you should have known,” said the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, who once worked at the Vatican Embassy in
Rachel Donadio and Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs