News / Europe

Catholics Celebrate Easter, Among Church Sex Scandal

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

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Roman Catholics around the world prepare to celebrate Easter, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But allegations that priests sexually abused children have tarnished the image of the Church and raised questions about Pope Benedict's leadership.

This is the heartland of Roman Catholicism. The Church has more than one billion followers worldwide.

But now the Vatican is besieged by allegations of sexual abuse and of a cover up by senior clergy as well as questions about Pope Benedict XVI and his role when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Peter Isely was sexually abused by a priest when he was 13.  That prompted him to help establish a victims' support group in the United States.  He's come to Rome for answers.

"That's why we're here - to say, look these men in our community our fellow survivors, they deserve an answer from you," said Peter Isely. "You have to talk to them."

They especially want answers about then Cardinal Ratzinger and his involvement in the transfer of a priest who abused some 200 deaf American children in Wisconsin 30 years ago.

"If he's not able to answer convincingly and clearly the evidence which is mounting in these cases, how's he going to be able to discipline and change anything," he said. "You know, he can't."

So far, the Pope has apologized for abuses in Ireland.

Elsewhere in Europe, including the Pope's native Germany, allegations of past abuses have also surfaced.  Ratzinger served as Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

He approved the transfer of a pedophile priest, Peter Huellermann, to the Munich Archdiocese for psychotherapy.  It's unclear if he knew the priest was allowed back into the parish and again had contact with children.

The Vatican says Ratzinger didn't know. Jesuit priest Godehard Bruentrup is a professor of philosophy at the Munich Jesuit College.  

"I cannot see that there is a direct responsibility by Ratzinger for the reassignment of Huellermann to pastoral work - maybe an indirect one because that's where the buck stops, so to speak," said Godehard Bruentrup.

But, the Pope is also known for toughening up the laws against sexual abuse in the Church.  

Still, questions remain from his time as head of the Vatican's main office of doctrine and why Cardinal Ratzinger chose not to discipline or defrock the American priest, the Reverend Lawrence Murphy.  

Francis Rocca, Vatican correspondent for the Religion News Service, says he believes the Pope is aware of the implications of these cases.

"I expect him to address the German situation as he did the Irish and I'll bet you that you'll see some kind of language that will - using very papal rhetoric, acknowledge that the way the bishops were dealing with it in 1980 or thereabouts, when he was in that role, was we now know, not the best way," said Francis Rocca.

For many, papal rhetoric will not be enough.

"That's simply not good enough," said Isely. "They need to start using words that describe these things and what they've done about it."

Observers like Rocca think there will be a positive side.

"I think on balance it will be positive in the sense that it is stimulating a recognition beyond the shores of North America, that this needs to be dealt with better," he said.

Many say new directives from the Vatican on allegations of abuse will be the first result.

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