Catholic epologists have been attempting to let Benedict XVI off the hook by claiming that he didn’t have the authority to prosecute cases of priestly abuse. Some commenters have challenged the factually accuracy of that claim.
But let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that he didn’t have the authority to take direct action. Does that absolve him?
First of all, there’s an elementary difference between moral responsibility and professional responsibility. Even if a certain duty is no part of your job description, that doesn’t automatically mean it ceases to be a moral duty.
Suppose a banker knows that higher-ups are defrauding their investors. The first thing he ought to do is notify the internal division of the bank that’s responsible for handling these cases.
But suppose, having done that, he sees the abuse continue apace. Does that absolve himself of further responsibility? Is he entitled to remain silent? No.
Several courses of action are available. He could become an anonymous source for a news outlet. Or he could become a confidential informant for the police or FBI. Or he could resign, keep copies of the incriminating evidence, then become a public whistleblower.
But Catholic epologists act as if Ratzinger’s ethical obligations begin and end with what is written down in canon law. As if Vatican policy demarcates his moral obligations.
But what if Vatican policy is the problem? What then? Is it sufficient to say, “I was just following orders” and leave it at that?
Let’s also keep in mind two other things about Ratzinger. As I recall, he had weekly meetings with his predecessor (John-Paul II) for 24 years. Surely he had ample opportunity to raise these issues directly with the pontiff.
And, of course, Ratzinger has been the pope for five years now. What priests and bishops have been defrocked? What priests and bishops have been excommunicated? What priests and bishops have been referred to the civil authorities for prosecution?