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. Billrich2

    ...and wind.

    September 24, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  2. ajk68

    "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.

    Marcial Maciel is a very notable case which Cardinal Ratzinger exposed – and word is that he campaigned quite strongly to be heard. When he became pope he removed Maciel from public ministry.

    September 24, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
  3. Lionly Lamb


    September 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  4. John

    " It is as true today as it was yesterday that faith inspires unselfish love, service to others, sincerity and justice.”"
    Many, many "Christians" in name only, as there is very little of those qualities on display in today's world.

    September 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • msg44

      You are wrong. If you don't see any of them it is because you are hanging with the actual crowd you are rediculing.

      September 24, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
  5. Mary

    Does he know lying is a sin, pr is he exempt.

    September 24, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • Alfred Temple

      How is he lying?

      September 24, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  6. Steven Colo

    “I have never tried to cover these things up. The fact that evil is able to penetrate so deeply into the interior world of faith, is a cause of great suffering to us. On the one hand we must bear this suffering but on the other we need to do all that we can to prevent such incidents from occurring again. It of no comfort to hear from sociologists that the percentage of priests guilty of such crimes is no higher than the figures registered in other similar professions. But this deviant behaviour should not be ostensibly presented as a filthy crime that only exists in the Catholic Church. Most importantly, although it is right to expose evil in the Church, one must not turn a blind eye to “the shining ray of goodness and purity that the Christian faith has brought light to the world over the centuries … It is as true today as it was yesterday that faith inspires unselfish love, service to others, sincerity and justice.”

    Yep, not a shred of sympathy for those who were abused. Thanks Goodness he's out, and my compliments to the Church for picking a successor that almost makes up for him.

    September 24, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  7. Frank

    Why are all of these posted in the religion blog? Their commenting system is horrible. Just post it as a regular article.

    September 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  8. EuphoriCrest

    Now he's covering up the cover up! LOL

    September 24, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  9. pockets

    As a former Catholic, you cannot understand the relief it is to get the hell away from such a terrible organization. The weight off my shoulders is fantastic and I relish in the idea of being a "non-believer". Agnostic, or pagan or heathen or anything else you can name. I have everything to live for and nothing to die for.....this is it..........enjoy your lives.

    September 24, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • EuphoriCrest

      Congratulations!! May you richly enjoy your new life as a free-thinker.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • JJ

      Congratulations on throwing off the fear and indoctrination. Isn't it great to know that it was all a lie?

      September 24, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Boruch N. Hoffinger

      There is A LOT to live for:
      The Oldest Civilized Laws Known to Mankind.
      'The 7 Noahide Laws'
      A G-dly answer to a searching soul.
      Beautiful, profound, ultimate truth, meaningful, soothing, comforting, dynamic, symphonic, melodious and serene.
      Great leaders, and thousands have lived with these laws and practices which brings one
      very close to a personal, and loving Creator and Father.
      You need little else to live a wonderful and happy life.
      More amazing info? bhoffinger@aol.com

      September 24, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
      • Billy da kid

        You have to graduate. Get a job, etc.

        Gal 3:24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

        September 24, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      Many of us here have a a similar experience when we let go of god and religion. Well done! Welcome to the light.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
      • ajk68

        Your metaphor about light is hilariously ironic.
        Isn't it your whole belief that there is no great principle of Truth !?
        What is this light you speak of then?

        September 24, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
        • fintastic

          @AKJ......... No, atheism = lack of belief in god......... very simple, nothing more.

          September 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • Creole

      Could not have agree more! I too left the Catholic Church 3 years ago and everything fell in place in my life; I was always "confused at church"; but now that I embrace my spirituality , I fell so free.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • tc

      How sad that you have no faith in God becasue of men or an organization. I pray that you will seek to find God and put your faith in Him, not people and certainly not organizations.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      "Agnostic, or pagan or heathen......."

      or hindu or moslem...........
      just because you gave up on the church does not mean you cannot join another religion so that you may still be close to God.......

      September 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • B Kried

      I hope you truly find inner peace, joy, meaning, and love in your brand of atheism.

      September 25, 2013 at 12:17 am |
  10. MJ

    To all you Catholic haters, you should be so blessed. What venom !

    September 24, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • JJ

      No, we just hate pedophile supporters who claim the moral high ground and continue to support your pedophile infested cult.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
      • ajk68

        Pedophilia is no more an infestation in the Catholic Church than any other organization.
        Statistically it is no different (or maybe even slightly better than some groups).

        September 24, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
        • G to the T

          Perhaps as "shephards of god's children" we hold them to a slighly higher standard? Just saying...

          September 25, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
        • Randy

          That may or may not be true. The thing the church has no excuse for though is covering it up and moving child molesters around so they could do it again. The Catholic Church is literally a mult-billion dollar crime empire.

          September 25, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
        • baffledbyyourignorance

          "Maybe even slightly better than other groups". So... you're admitting that pedophilia exist in the catholic church but it's somehow ok because it's not as bad or prevalent as in some other cult groups??!! WOW, no wonder why the only people that follow the catholic church are devoid of the ability to think freely. AKA; BRAINWASHED.

          October 6, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      I suspect there are fewer catholic haters than there are child abuser haters.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  11. Tolkeinista

    Hail Sauron!

    September 24, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • He's Dead Jim

      lol I love victimless jokes.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  12. Seth Hill

    As a freshman at MIT in 1959, some friends convinced me to attend a Catholic meeting. The local Priest discussed the trial of Galileo, which was interesting to us science nerds. He concluded that "Torture was OK as long as it followed Church guidelines: the tortured could not be killed; tortured only once; only in questions of faith." Ever since, I have felt for the Catholic Church a loathing which is too bitter to describe.

    September 24, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • TheThinker

      You hate the Catholic Church because 500 years ago there were some evil clerics?

      Do you hate Italy because of Christians thrown to the lions, Spain because of the Inquisition, Germany because of Hitler, or America for displacing Native Americans?

      Wasn't the discussion about Galileo meant to point out past sins?

      September 24, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
      • EuphoriCrest

        Seth's personal experience was only 54 years ago. Obviously, you missed his point.

        September 24, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
      • He's Dead Jim

        Actually, I hate the Catholic Church because it is a haven for pedophiles now. All of the horrible crimes commited in the name of God is just an add-on.

        September 24, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
      • Seth Hill

        Actually, in the discussion about Galileo, the priest never criticized the use of torture in the Catholic Church; he said it was all right as long as certain precautions were followed.

        September 24, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
      • Seth Hill

        Yes, I do hate those countries or organizations because of their past sins.

        September 24, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
      • Seth Hill

        500 years ago, the clerics who organized and carried out torture of heretics were not considered evil; they were in the main-stream of Catholicism. In 1959, they were still considered to be in the mainstream of Catholicism.

        September 24, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
      • James

        It sounds more like a defense of those sins to me.

        September 24, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • B Kried

      How sure are we whether you're telling the truth of what really transpired in the lecture? Your focus of listening could be selective.

      September 25, 2013 at 12:21 am |
  13. dick delson

    As Pope's go, I.e. John, Francis, Benedict is a loser and a former member of the Hitler youth

    September 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • ed dugan

      The less those two jerks say the better off the world is. They are completely irrelevant to anything important and the catholic church will contine down its long path of corruption and cover up.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • Dippy

      Popes, not Pope's.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
      • RC

        You're not going to change the way people type, Dippy. But I guess you need to show your superiority somehow. Oh-and SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!!!

        September 24, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
        • Dippy

          It's "oh, and," not "oh-and."

          September 24, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
        • RC

          Seems weird having two commas that close to each other, but I'm sure you're right. Even so, SHUT UP!!!!!!!

          September 25, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
    • ElreyJones

      Hitler pitler. Stalin and the Jewish Supremacists who invented bolshevism are responsible for over 100 million deaths in the 20th century alone. Screw Hitler but the Bolsheviks and International Gangster supremacists who rule the world are much more evil – well maybe the Obama types are a more serious threat – we'll see.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  14. nana

    The Catholic church needs to expose everything.

    September 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • APIA

      That's the problem.. too many members of their hierarchy were overexposing things they shouldn't have... To the wrong audiences I might add..

      September 24, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
      • tc

        O knew that comment was coming as soon as I read the word "exposed"

        September 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Nik

      They did, that's the problem!

      September 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  15. albert

    This church play a major role in what the Bible calls apostasy. Is it any wonder that this former Pope continues to lie? " the church has paid $2.6 billion" That's how they put collection plate money to use as millions of Catholics in 3rd world countries starve. This filthy church is morally bankrupt just as the Bible said it would be.

    September 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • TheThinker

      Hmm, the world's leading charitable organization is Catholic Charities, which has the lowest overhead of any charitable organization. It fed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. Please give links to support the notion that the Catholic Church ignores starving people.

      September 24, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        The fact that there are starving people is pretty strong evidence. The RCC is one of the richest organizations on earth – they didn't sell property to pay those settlements. Ultimately that money came from collection plates and from the RCC's symbiotic relationship with monarchy.

        September 24, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
        • fred

          no, the world with it's laws and greed took the 2 billion and elected to give 70% to rich lawyers instead of feeding the poor. Keep your perspective. Our socialist inspired government employees are due 87 billion in entitlements none of which is going to feed the poor, it is going to pay for lifestyles of others that want to feed their BMW gas tank instead of the poor. We all think we are due free healthcare, free housing and world wide travel after the age of 65. Feeding the poor is a failure of man not God. God simply allows us to display the sin in our hearts when we choose self over feeding the hungry

          September 24, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
        • Dippy

          Its, not it's.

          September 24, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
        • RC

          Dippy needs a hobby. Oh wait-he/she has one. SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!

          September 24, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
        • EuphoriCrest

          Fred: No one mentioned god. You are confusing the RCC with god. They are not the same thing, although the RCC would have you believe otherwise.

          September 24, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
        • EuphoriCrest

          RC: An em dash, comma, or even a colon would have been appropriate, but NOT a hyphen. You're welcome.

          September 24, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
        • Dippy

          Thank you, EuphoriCrest. RC is a little slow, but he's coming along, slowly.

          September 24, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
      • Randy

        A local motorcycle gang does an annual toy drive each year for needy children. It doesn't mean they should not be held accountable if some of their members were abusing children & the club systematically looked the other way & tried to help hide them.

        September 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Teapubliturd Hater

      Albert; you speak like a yellow-dog Southern Baptist.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • tc

      When the bible speaks of apostasy, it is referring to those heretics that form their own "christian" religion and churches. Catholic Church is hte Christian church and people and churches such as Pastor Jim Bob of the People's Love of Christ Church is the sham in today's world.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  16. tc

    I don't think Benedict tried to cover anything up but I do believe he could have and should have done more and done it faster to respond to allegations and ensure government police authorities were notified and remove dubious priests. Priests don't have to be pastors working with families and children, they can do ther jobs. If I get a heebs vibe from someone then I would not let them work with people, regardless of age.

    September 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • dwamikayla

      Next time our local parish has a case of suspected abuse, we'll be sure to contact you for your "heebs vibe" expertise.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
      • tc

        PLease do because I don't ignore my "heebs" radar. Most children would be protected if people would would be in tune with their surrondings and not just rely on the fact that the person is probably fine. also, why do these parents let their children be alone with priests and why don't bishops tell priests to make sure they are not alone with children? Becasue people are trusting and stupid. I love my parish but sometimes you have to remember God gave us a brain and spirit (that can sense heebs)

        September 24, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  17. sly

    Tired of seeing these old White Men in dresses trying to pretty up the fact that many religious leaders are rapists.

    Come on. We all know. We've all read the truth. There really isn't anything else to discuss.

    September 24, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • jimJ2

      Come on – 17,000 in the US? Grandpas and Uncles have that beat by a long shot.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  18. Jeebusss

    Let me concisely paraphrase his response: "I'm innocent because I say I am." LOLOL. The Catholic Church ladies and gentlemen.

    September 24, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • The Bible is true

      Because it says so.

      September 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • APIA

      Well, he is SUPPOSED to be infallible...

      September 24, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
      • dwamikayla

        No, Benny's the ex-infallible one.

        September 24, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  19. tribecagal

    Benedict was Perfect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the folks who brought you the Inquisitions) from 1981 until elected pope in 2005. In his entire time in this position he never brought a single charge against a child molesting cleric. Why should anyone believe anything he says. Let him live in his monastery, pray for forgiveness and repent for his sins against the children.

    September 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • GP

      With your thinking we should remember that Americans today are all part of the group which bought and sold humans for profit, was responsible for the genocide of American Indian nations for their lands, started the KKK to suppress other Americans as well as giving us McCarthyism...just to name a few things. Don't forget the Protestants who tortured and hung their own family members after accusing them of being witches in Salem. We should all be held liable for those atrocities simple because we are Americans.

      September 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  20. JFCanton

    An important detail: Ratzinger's office assumed responsibility for bad priests "late in his career." Also known as, 20 years after most of this stuff came to the attention of the bishops and such who were supposed to deal with it. Reading is fundamental; apparently some people can't do it.

    And this is why good people avoid taking positions of responsibility: the higher the office, the more likely you get vilified for stuff someone else did wrong.

    September 24, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • Anon

      1981 wasn't too early for him to do something about it. He didn't. Enough said.

      September 24, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Well JF, your point was proved in only 29 minutes. lol

      September 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • paul II


      September 24, 2013 at 5:41 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.