The June 7 Time magazine cover blared, “Why Being Pope Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry,” and the article explored the sexual abuse that has occurred in the Catholic Church and how the church might overcome the scandal. But the authors, Jeff Israely and Howard Chua-Eoan, left little doubt that they viewed Pope Benedict XVI as already guilty in the sexual abuse scandal.
The article tried to build that case. The pair wrote, “Over the past two months, the Pope has led the Holy See's shift from silence and denial to calls to face the enemies from within the church. What is still missing, however, is any mention of the Holy Father's alleged role in the scandal.” The story was very one-sided – filled with abuse victims and critics of the church, but included virtually no experts defending the pope or the Catholicism.
Israely and Chua-Eoan presumably based their article in part on a New York Times report alleging that as archbishop, Benedict protected the church over children by transferring priests when abuse occurred in the United States, Germany, and Ireland. Another Times article accused Pope Benedict XVI of allowing priests to remain in Wisconsin after they abused deaf boys, although this is report has been strongly questioned.
Continuing to negatively portray Pope Benedict XVI, they wrote, “Ratzinger, both in his role as the local bishop in Munich from 1977 to 1981 and as the overseer of universal doctrine in Rome, was very much part of a system that had badly underestimated and in some cases enabled the rot of clergy abuse that spread through the church in the past half-century.”
It didn’t stop there. Israely and Chua-Eoan claimed that the Pope “mismanaged the assignment of an accused pedophile priest under his charge.” They also wrote that as archbishop, he “personally authorized the transfer of an abusive priest.”
They did manage to acknowledge that some of Pope Benedict’s policies have caused a “decline in new incidents of clerical sex abuse.” The piece also ignored the impact of Catholic doctrine on the whole crisis since Catholics view confession and forgiveness for sins as a sacrament. The article also left out the secular push to return molesters to their previous roles, assuming that psychiatric treatment had cured them.
None of that mattered to Israely and Chua-Eoan.To them, Pope Benedict XVI is clearly not innocent until proven guilty.
The authors also suggested how the pope could repair the church. They recommended he give a mea culpa, an “acceptance of personal guilt.” The pope did apologize for the sexual abuse in Ireland, but that wasn’t good enough for Time. The article complained he only apologized for the “errors committed by the hierarchy” and not for himself.
A penance was also suggested. But they sneered, “But what kind of penance would a pope with fingerprints on the controversy have to perform?”
While they did credit the Pope for meeting with victims and answering reporter’s questions, it was clear he was supposed to do more. Israely and Chua-Eoan explained, “The pope has yet to address this period of his career explicitly. But if he is to satisfy victims and their families, he will have to do so one day.”
The authors, however, couldn’t resist sarcastically asking if, “Or is this just a more effective public relations strategy?”
Israely and Chua-Eoan did make it known they didn’t just blame Pope Benedict’s for the crisis – it was the church’s structure too. They explained, “The Catholic Church believes it is Christ's representative on earth, with all the sinlessness and omnipotent authority of its Savior. The statesmen of the church have always known that to preserve that authority, the realm of the Popes could not simply be an otherworldly City of God.”
The Time story was just the latest of many media attacks on both the pope and the Catholic church. During Holy Week, the broadcast networks featured 26 stories about Pope Benedict’s assumed role and 69 percent of the stories assumed that he was guilty.