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. sam stone


    October 3, 2013 at 1:36 am |
  2. Allen

    Imagine that, 2.6 BILLION DOLLARS? This is the same church that is always claiming that it's poor and needs donations from its parishioners. The number alone bears out that lie for what it truly is.

    The clergy, and I don't just mean the catholics, are a bunch of hypocrites. They have the biggest legal racket in the world while most of us remain poor and/or homeless.

    October 2, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  3. secular

    Cover the evil actions under the shield of a deity that even its own existence is under question, while the innocent suffers silently under this religious/theocracy that has a strangling hold on the humans since the stone age

    September 30, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  4. sam stone

    Wow, he DENIED it.

    I guess I am placated.

    Thanks for clearing that up

    September 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • sam stone

      little girl, where is but hurt? pack ur bags honey. u will receive a warm welcome where u r destined. lol

      October 6, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  5. stanky weed patch

    Largest lawsuit in U.S. history, danny boy. And your little perverted girlfriend is going to prison

    September 29, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • sam stone

      still not fellating a 12 gauge, are ya faith?

      September 30, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  6. realbuckyball

    If they defrocked every gay priest, there would be no priests. Idiot.
    There is no demonstrated link between se'xual orientation, and child molestation, double idiot.
    Read the John Jay College of Law report, (that is if you can read).

    September 29, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
  7. realbuckyball

    You can create a name in WordPress which requires a password.
    Your name will then be blue.
    No one can steal that.
    Many of us had to do it.

    September 29, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
  8. USMC 1371

    It means your retarded

    September 29, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
  9. Prayer is a Waste of Time

    Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
    Prayer has been shown to have no discernible effect towards what was prayed for.
    Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just go to http://santorum.com to find out more.
    Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
    Prayer makes you fat, pale, weak, and sedentary.
    Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
    Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
    Prayer fucks up your knees and your neck and your back.
    Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
    Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world.
    Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
    Prayer makes you think doilies are exciting.
    Prayer makes you secretively flatulent and embarrassed about it.
    Prayer makes your kids avoid spending time with you.
    Prayer gives you knobbly knees.
    Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just google him to find out.
    Prayer dulls your senses.
    Prayer makes you post really stupid shit.
    Prayer makes you hoard cats.
    Prayer makes you smell like shitty kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
    Prayer wastes time.

    September 29, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • Ted

      Awesome list. ROFL.

      September 29, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • JosephS

      I would love to sit here as an atheist and agree that prayer is totally useless, unfortunately that's not always the case. Prayer can take away people's pain in the same way a placebo works. If the person praying REALLY believes it, prayer can be effective psycologically. With that said, it won't actually CURE anything, so for their sake, I hope they seek medical treatment. For other more physical related prayers, it does nothing. Any perceived casuations are strictly coincidence.

      September 30, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  10. Gene

    Why is it that you find is so difficult to stay on topic?

    September 29, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  11. lol??

    You don't want a debate show. That's OK for educratists but not so hot in the real wurld.

    September 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  12. Billy

    What Ted said below, troll. Present something other than spam; otherwise, you're just a whiner.

    September 29, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  13. Ted

    If you really think that is the case, then present your arguments so that they can be examined, instead of linkspam.

    September 29, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Though there have been some who's scientific data was not credible, The overwhelming amount of data that we have does show global warming is going on right now.

      There are several questions about it, though it is a fact.
      Is it normal for the earth to warm in this manner, part of a cycle?
      How much influence has man had on it?
      What can be done if anything to reduce human impact if it is shown to be a large factor (all indicators say we are having a large influence)
      Global warming is a fact, not a conspiracy. What the cause is and what should be done, if anything is the only question here.

      September 29, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Ted

      Then stop posting from the standpoint that you know the answers. At best, you were dishonest.

      September 29, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Dippy

      Richard, it's "whose," not "who's."

      September 29, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  14. Xavier

    What's the harm of going to church?

    September 29, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      The time could be better spent elsewhere.

      What is the harm of NOT going to church?

      September 29, 2013 at 8:26 am |
      • Xavier

        What if I had nothing else to do? Would it then do no harm?

        September 29, 2013 at 8:31 am |
        • Richard Cranium

          If you can't find something better to do than go to church, I pity you.

          September 29, 2013 at 8:43 am |
        • Xavier

          But if it gives me peace and positive direction then wouldn't it make sense for me to continue to go?

          September 29, 2013 at 8:50 am |
        • Richard Cranium

          You can't find peace by putting your time to something constructive?

          Religion is nothing but mental masturbation. It is for your own gratification, and nothing more.

          September 29, 2013 at 9:05 am |
        • Xavier


          I can find peace by putting your time to something constructive and going to Church.

          September 29, 2013 at 9:09 am |
        • Richard Cranium

          The language is called American English.

          Nothing but delusion comes from church.

          September 29, 2013 at 9:13 am |
        • Xavier

          Not in my experience. I feel a lot of positive influence has come from my time at church.

          September 29, 2013 at 9:44 am |
        • Sue

          Why does your all-powerful deity need your worship, and need you to attend ceremonies honoring hiim? Your god seems to have a vanity and insecurity problem.

          September 29, 2013 at 10:27 am |
        • Xavier

          He isn't. One doesn't have to worship Him.

          September 29, 2013 at 11:01 am |
        • Gail

          He'll just torture you forever if you don't.

          September 29, 2013 at 11:18 am |
        • PeterVN

          Church is for stupid sheeple only, and exists along with social pressure for regular attendance so that the church system can regularly collect money from such idiots. Churches generally are one of the least efficient charities, and what good works they do essentially come with strings attached.

          My favorite blog quote is still "Religion is for the ignorant, the gullible, the stupid, and the cowardly, and for those who would profit from them."

          September 29, 2013 at 11:23 am |
        • Xavier

          I don't know if that is true Gail, at least not in my faith. The pope did say that Atheists can go to heaven.

          September 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
        • Bob

          It is impossible to know just how much more science would have advanced without the church suppressing it by threats of torture to scientists and so on, but we certainly would be further ahead without that suppression by the evil Christians who were involved.

          However, your "saint" that you cited, that awful, cruel bitch known as Mother Teresa, has been thoroughly exposed as the cruel, sadistic person that she was. See here http://www.examiner.com/article/mother-teresa-sadistic-religious-fanatic-guilty-of-medical-malpractice . She should have gone to jail for what she did.

          September 29, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
        • Bob

          PeterVN is right on, SoC. You might find the truth hard to take, since you are a coward, but the truth is that Christian beliefs are ridiculous, and you really do have to be either stupid or gullible or otherwise deluded to accept them in the modern world.

          September 29, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
        • Sue

          Xavier, part of the problem is not just your belief in the afterlife per se, but the bundle of other stuff that comes along with it in your religion, that you don't critically examine. That stuff inevitably impacts the laws and norms that the rest of us have to live by, and yet it has no basis in reason, nor any validity of its own. Furthermore, the abandonment of reason that is required for acceptance of religious dogma is a very bad consequence for humanity.

          September 29, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
        • Atheist, me?

          You do not know the definition of a dumb Atheist, do u?
          Well now u do! lol

          September 30, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
      • My Dog is a jealous Dog

        You are wrong, in that evolution is the mechanism that gave us the morals and ethics necessary for us to live in groups. Just like elephants, wolves, and even termites are able to live in social groups. In fact, your ability to kill those outside your group (you are a soldier, aren't you) pretty much proves my point.

        September 29, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        "typical hater"
        Incorrect. Where do you see hate. Understand that hate is a very strong word and many throw it around incorrectly, Like yu did. Where is the hate?

        By the way, we get our morals from our animal ancestors. There are many social animals that have cultures, language, societies and they function quite well without your belief in any gods. God is not needed for maorality.

        Now what about the immorality that is allowing someone else to take your just punishment, an immorality your entire christianity is based on?

        September 29, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
      • Sue

        Dog, that is a very important point. Interesting is a recent Scientific American article on the Evolution of Cooperation. Worth a read, if you haven't already seen it. It is also very clear that religion is not the basis for our morals and laws.

        September 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
      • aldewacs2

        Christians claim to 'get' their morality from the few bible paragraphs that happen to agree with commonly accepted standards of behavior. The others, ie. those that are clearly hateful passages, are ignored and written off as requiring the 'proper interpretation by authorized religious translators'.
        P.T. Barnum would be proud.

        September 30, 2013 at 11:28 am |
      • M MURDOCH


        October 1, 2013 at 7:19 am |
      • M MURDOCH


        October 1, 2013 at 7:20 am |
    • Sue

      Two hands out in the troubled world do more good than millions of hands clasped in prayer in church to a deity that does not exist and has never lifted a finger to help anyone.

      September 29, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Sue

      Two hands out in the troubled world working to solve a problem do more good than millions of hands clasped in prayer in church to a deity that does not exist, has been shown not to answer prayers, and has never lifted a finger to help anyone.

      September 29, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • lol??

      Going to church makes you a sitting duck when the Beasties blame you for rome burnin'. 'Sides they've all fallen away already.

      September 29, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • USMC 1371

      You have proved that church is irrelevant by asking the question. If faith was true why would be looking for opinions on your faith.

      September 29, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
    • aldewacs2

      "What's the harm of going to church?"
      Not much different from going to any other building, and the effect (good or bad) is about the same. If it makes you feel good, then go for it. Makes no other physical difference, except perhaps that others see you're going and you're then welcomed in that social group that also 'sees no harm' and attends for social companionship.

      September 30, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
      • Atheist, me?

        Alas Xavier
        The Dumbeists here do not even understand Atheism enough to defend it but they'll attack another religion at a moments notice.
        And they have such a superiority complex! lol

        September 30, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  15. Apple Bush

    If there were a god I dare say it would be no concern of ours. We would be no more important to it than a spider, a giraffe, or a turkey dinner. That much is quite clear based on the evidence all humans witness daily.

    September 29, 2013 at 7:48 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      That much seems obvious. If the universe, with its billions of galaxies, is the product of some super being then we would be no more significant to it than the microbes that inhabit the breakfast I just made...even less so since the possibility exists that those microbes might affect me in some way. We will have no impact whatsoever on the universe as a whole so we merit no attention by it.

      September 29, 2013 at 8:12 am |
      • lol??

        Exactly atheist, why bother worshiping a creature-creation??

        September 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  16. Apple Bush

    I will be worshipping at church today. Services start at 1pm Eastern.

    September 29, 2013 at 7:11 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Please join for the 4pm services as well.

      There will be a special service on Monday at 8:40 for the younger crowd.

      September 29, 2013 at 7:15 am |
  17. Apple Bush

    I fell asleep. What happened?

    September 29, 2013 at 5:22 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Nothing extraordinary. Earth spun a bit on its axis, our path around the sun has traversed a bit and high tide in Florida is flooding streets near the ocean. Carry on.

      September 29, 2013 at 5:54 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Excellent, thank you. I heard some missiles are flying around in the Mediterranean too.

      September 29, 2013 at 6:53 am |
  18. Phelix Unger

    The expope is saying, I told you I was busy, I told you I was resting, I got a flat on the way to the vatican.

    September 29, 2013 at 1:34 am |
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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.