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As new clergy sex-abuse allegations come to light in Germany, some in the media seem eager to tie them in whatever way possible to the German pontiff. Damian Thompson of the Telegraph points to a Times headline — “Pope knew priest was paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry” — as just one of the more egregious examples of misleading news reports on the story:
The then Archbishop Ratzinger allowed a priest accused of sexual offences from another diocese to go into retreat in Munich while he received counselling; he knew nothing of the decision to put the priest into ministry and by the time the priest was accused of further offences, Cardinal Ratzinger had been in Rome for years.
The German Church handled this very badly, no doubt; but it was not Joseph Ratzinger’s fault and the headline is (excuse the shouting) NOT TRUE.
Of course, explaining all that doesn’t help move papers. But over at CNN, John Allen says that the Vatican probably hasn’t seen the end of this particular media frenzy:
[T]he story is potentially damaging to the pontiff for at least two reasons.
First, this may not be the only case from the five years when Benedict was archbishop of Munich. When similar scandals have erupted in other parts of the world, one report or one accusation typically breeds others. If revelations emerge in drips and drabs about other abuser priests from the years Benedict was archbishop, it could tie his papacy down fighting public relations battles for some time to come.
Second, if other cases come to light, they could damage the pope’s ability to resolve what many observers regard as the principal unfinished business of the crisis [i.e., holding accountable the bishops who presided over abusive priests].
Potential allegations don’t even have to be particularly well-founded to redound negatively on Benedict, as the Times headline shows. Sadly, for some in the media, concrete evidence isn’t necessary to condemn the pope — speculation and insinuation will do.