Ex-pope breaks silence, denies cover up
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, left, greets Pope Francis during a March meeting at the Vatican gardens.
September 24th, 2013
02:05 PM ET

Ex-pope breaks silence, denies cover up

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

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(CNN) - Retired Pope Benedict XVI says he never tried to cover up the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, breaking his post-retirement silence to address one of the greatest threats to his legacy as a church leader.

In a lengthy letter published in La Repubblica, an Italian newspaper, the former pope answered theological and moral arguments from Piergiorgio Odifreddi, an Italian atheist and mathematician who had written about Benedict in 2011.

Earlier this month, La Repubblica also published a letter to its atheist editor from Pope Francis, Benedict's successor.

Since his retirement on February 28, Benedict has mostly stayed out of the public eye, living in a converted monastery behind St. Peter's Basilica and keeping his promise to steer clear - at least publicly - of church business.

Benedict's new letter, coming on the heels of Francis' blockbuster interview published last week, makes for a remarkable week for papal communication. Most modern popes have been fairly inaccessible - to the media, at least.

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In Benedict's letter, published Tuesday, the former pope said: "As far as you mentioning the moral abuse of minors by priests, I can only, as you know, acknowledge it with profound consternation. But I never tried to cover up these things."

Benedict, who now has the title "pope emeritus," also said that even though sociologists have determined that the percentage of priests accused of abusing minors is not markedly higher than other professions, that's "not reassuring" for the church.

Critics answer that it's the not just the crimes but the coverups that made the church's response to sexual abuse so scandalous.

"Over a clerical career that lasted more than six decades, we can’t think of a single child-molesting bishop, priest, nun, brother or seminarian that Benedict ever exposed," said Barbara Dorris of the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Before he was elected pope, Benedict, formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which assumed responsibility for handling priest abuse cases late in his career.

As pope, he issued revised guidelines in 2010 making it easier to remove abusive priests from the ministry, apologized for the "shame" the scandal brought on the church and met with victims, including in the United States in 2008.

Critics like SNAP dismissed those moves as too little, too late.

In the United States alone, nearly 17,000 people have come forward with abuse claims, and the church has paid $2.6 billion in settlements, therapy bills, lawyers' fees and expenses related to removing priests from the ministry, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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In Tuesday's letter, and on past occasions, Benedict has decried the "filth" of sexual abuse in the church. But, the emeritus pope said, it is not "specific to Catholicism." He also chided Odifreddi for neglecting the good the church has done.

"If you do not remain silent about evil in the Church, we must not, however, be silenced even by the great shining path of goodness and purity, which Christian faith has traced through the centuries," Benedict said.

Pope Francis said in April, in one of his first statements as pope, that the church must take "decisive action" regarding cases of child sexual abuse and protecting children.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Crime • Media • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope Francis • Rape • Sex abuse • Vatican

soundoff (2,421 Responses)
  1. Evolution

    I'm with Stupid → Atheist.

    September 27, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • Larry the Cable Guy

      Hehe! That were pretty funny, but you gotta work on sum skillz ifin yer gonna take the bible belt blue collar comedy tour! Try sumpin like did "Git er dun!" or "Evolution smevilution!" or the ol classic "I'ma used rubber, yer glue, whatever I don't get on my hands i'm gonna wipe on you..."

      September 27, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  2. Jed

    Fsck off and die, ass wipe.

    September 27, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
  3. Answer

    If we, atheists, had that much money to kill off your religious freaks religion we will do it!

    September 27, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  4. Answer

    "Anonymous billionaires donated $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science"

    -Investing in $120 Million dollars for NOT believing in it. Just marvelous!

    September 27, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  5. SoC is a moron

    You are beyond ridiculous.
    Global warming and the loinks of tobacco to cancer is junk science, but idiots like you want to teach crationism in school. You aren't a Soldier of Conscience. You are a denier of what is plainly in front of your face.

    September 27, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • SoC is a moron

      S/B links to cancer
      S/B creationism

      We can always use the standard pat answer of "God did it!"

      September 27, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  6. Answer

    "Climate Change Denial and the Far Right"


    ::Read about it you scumbag religious freaks::

    "Donors Trust" << - the more you know, the less we have to put up with you religious freaks.


    September 27, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  7. bostontola

    ""Theory of Evolution" and "Law of Gravity" .. nuff said."

    It is sad that an American would say such an absurd thing. Newton's "law of gravity" is not right in all ranges. That's why relativity came in. Relativity is very likely not complete either. We don't deny that gravity exists because the theory is incomplete. We use it to achieve great things in the valid ranges of the theory. Band gap theory in solid state physics is an approximation that works in a broad useful range and we have semi-conductors because of that. Wireless devices, computers, etc are the benefits.

    Denying evolution because the theory is incomplete is like saying "I don't believe semi-conductors are real because bang gap theory is not complete", or "I don't believe there is gravity because the theory of relativity breaks down at quantum scales".

    September 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  8. sam

    You can save the planet by having all of your orifices sealed, starting with the ones you breathe through.

    September 27, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  9. sam

    It's caused by the noxious gasses released everytime someone like you opens their mouth and orally farts out a bunch of nonsense.

    September 27, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  10. Observer


    LOL. Rather than experts, the UN should just have contacted you. LOL!

    September 27, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
  11. Apple Bush

    what about it? Are you doing your part?

    September 27, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  12. Apple Bush

    Time is up!

    The correct answer was Mary Johnson, Crown College graduate. 1-855–CROWN-YOU

    September 27, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Called to Serve. Prepared to Lead.

      September 27, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Channel your faith through online learning

      September 27, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
  13. Apple Bush

    Yes, and I am very educated. I have a degree in religion.

    THAT'S the question, do YOU know the answer?

    September 27, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • AE

      What school?

      September 27, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      AE that is INCORRECT. Sorry.

      I am very educated. I have a degree in religion.

      THAT'S the question, do YOU know the answer?

      September 27, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
      • AE

        What does Apple Bush imagine a smart Christian's qualifications look like?

        September 27, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Well AE, in my imagination they look shiny and you can lick the sugar off. But in real life, they look like Mary Johnson, Crown College graduate.

          September 27, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Oh sorry, 1-855–CROWN-YOU

          September 27, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
      • dannyzihua

        Humble pie would be good, an educated person even in religion does not have all the answers.

        September 27, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Sorry. This round is over.

          September 27, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  14. Apple Bush

    You, child
    Crossing the line without knowing
    Just for being who you are
    What confusion was hard wired?
    A developing brain, healthy and ready
    Sabotaged as a child
    To an inevitable end!

    September 27, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  15. Apple Bush

    If I were smart Christian, I would.....

    oh never mind, that is never going to go anywhere.

    September 27, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • Topher

      Ouch, dude!

      September 27, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        Dude, sometimes the BS from ya'll gets so thick I have to fire a torpedo to break through!

        September 27, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
        • Bill Deacon

          break through to what?

          September 27, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          The POOP Billy. The Christian poop.

          September 27, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Oh sorry Bill, you said "to".


          September 27, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
        • Bill Deacon

          OH, then take a break my man. Pontius Pilate got the answer for you.

          September 27, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
        • Apple Bush


          September 27, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
      • Austin

        Topher, is that me?

        September 27, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  16. Apple Bush

    Blankety blank out about to catch ya

    Rollin it up, got my paper
    L.A. is a friendly neighbor

    Don’t put on the upities and yuppities
    I like my dogs better

    Raised on religion, living on stealin’
    Mecca’s in my head buy not in my religion.

    September 27, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  17. JimK57

    Take a break for a month and come back to see the same athiests making the same comments. There is a wonderful world out there go enjoy it!

    September 27, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Alias

      Doesn't that apply exactly as well to the christians?

      September 27, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
      • AE

        Yes. You act exactly like Christians!

        September 27, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          I change a little from year to year. Right now for instance I am more reptilian. Next year I am going back to something more traditional.

          September 27, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
        • AE

          Are you evolving or devolving?

          September 27, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
        • Wynona's Big Brown Beaver

          You and Live4 both are so good at leaps in 'logic'...

          September 27, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          I'm sorry I misunderstood the topic.

          September 27, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  18. Live4Him

    Computer analysis of all the known New Testament manuscripts reveal only 0.1 percent variance. That means that 99.9 percent of the manuscripts' contents are in perfect agreement.
    How the Bible Became a Book, Terry Hall, 1990

    September 27, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Live4Him

      And with this, I'm out of here for now. (The atheists are now applauding!)

      September 27, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        we won't even notice you've gone ...

        September 27, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
        • Dyslexic doG

          but we do understand that there's a new SpongeBob episode that you just can't miss. See you in half an hour.

          September 27, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
      • Madtown

        I guess we'll have to find our comedy somewhere else the rest of the day.

        September 27, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Snow

      computer analysis in 1990.. do you even know the power of those machines or the maturity of algorithms back then?

      September 27, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
      • Wynona's Big Brown Beaver

        Live4 seems pretty good at just believing everything he reads.

        September 27, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • L4H is a bore

      A 23-year old computer analysis? We're supposed to buy that? Lol, you're not really a scientist, are you?
      Atheists want you to stay here, because you are nothing if not comedy gold.

      September 27, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
      • dannyzihua

        L$H is a bore, It seems that you do not look at the Big picture of things. Just think of your age the time that you went to school and the books that you used, can you say that they are accurate and can be used in todays class rooms. The Bible it's last part Revolations was written around 90 c.e. It was the attention of elimination by burning, Banning and yet it is around. Many books can not say the same like Inventio Fortunata. The Bible was written by man but it does not Belong to man.

        September 27, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
        • Dippy

          Its, not it's.

          September 27, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      0.1 variance from 99.9 % crap is still 99.9 % crap. It's NOT helping your case.
      The Church Fathers were self admitted lying sobs. They wrote the thing.
      A book by liars is a book of lies.

      September 27, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Lie4Him, At best that means they were reasonably accurate copies, it doesn't mean that the content is substantiated or accurate.

      September 27, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • G to the T

      Ummm... nope.

      "there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament."
      Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus p. 10

      September 28, 2013 at 7:24 am |
  19. Apple Bush

    The joyful myth and eager messenger;

    Stained glass soars to the rafters;

    Surely God is here, and yet this house is empty;

    No salesman can close;

    Lovely building full of lies, heard less prayers than cries;

    Sacred this and sacred that;

    Babies raped and priests zipping up their pants;

    No leads to follow;

    This is what Jesus witnesses from His lofty perch in that glass;

    Abuse the sheep and pay the tithe;

    Fill the tray and please don’t stay;

    Such a lovely cathedral, such a vile torture chamber.

    September 27, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.