|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope and archbishop in Munich at the time, was copied on a memo that informed him that a priest, whom he had approved sending to therapy in 1980 to overcome pedophilia, would be returned to pastoral work within days of beginning psychiatric treatment. The priest was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish.
An initial statement on the matter issued earlier this month by the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising placed full responsibility for the decision to allow the priest to resume his duties on Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy, the Rev. Gerhard Gruber. But the memo, whose existence was confirmed by two church officials, shows that the future pope not only led a meeting on Jan. 15, 1980, approving the transfer of the priest, but was also kept informed about the priest’s reassignment.
What part he played in the decision making, and how much interest he showed in the case of the troubled priest, who had molested multiple boys in his previous job, remains unclear. But the personnel chief who handled the matter from the beginning, the Rev. Friedrich Fahr, “always remained personally, exceptionally connected” to Cardinal Ratzinger, the church said.
The case of the German priest, the Rev. Peter Hullermann, has acquired fresh relevance because it unfolded at a time when Cardinal Ratzinger, who was later put in charge of handling thousands of abuse cases on behalf of the Vatican, was in a position to refer the priest for prosecution, or at least to stop him from coming into contact with children. The German Archdiocese has acknowledged that “bad mistakes” were made in the handling of Father Hullermann, though it attributed those mistakes to people reporting to Cardinal Ratzinger rather than to the cardinal himself.
Church officials defend Benedict by saying the memo was routine and was “unlikely to have landed on the archbishop’s desk,” according to the Rev. Lorenz Wolf, judicial vicar at the Munich Archdiocese. But Father Wolf said he could not rule out that Cardinal Ratzinger had read it.
A key moment came on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 1980. Cardinal Ratzinger presided that morning over the meeting of the diocesan council. His auxiliary bishops and department heads gathered in a conference room on the top floor of the bishop’s administrative offices, housed in a former monastery on a narrow lane in downtown Munich.
It was a busy day, with the deaths of five priests, the acquisition of a piece of art and pastoral care in Vietnamese for recent immigrants among the issues sharing the agenda with item 5d, the delicate matter of Father Hullermann’s future.
The minutes of the meeting include no references to the actual discussion that day, simply stating that a priest from Essen in need of psychiatric treatment required room and board in a Munich congregation. “The request is granted,” read the minutes, stipulating that Father Hullermann would live at St. John the Baptist Church in the northern part of the city.
Church officials have their own special name for the language in meeting minutes, which are internal but circulate among secretaries and other diocese staff members, said Father Wolf, who has a digitized archive of meeting minutes, including those for the Jan. 15 meeting. “It’s protocol-speak,” he said. “Those who know what it’s about understand, and those who don’t, don’t.”
Five days later, on Jan. 20, Cardinal Ratzinger’s office received a copy of the memo from his vicar general, Father Gruber, returning Father Hullermann to full duties, a spokesman for the archdiocese confirmed.
Father Hullermann resumed parish work practically on arrival in Munich, on Feb. 1, 1980. He was convicted in 1986 of molesting boys at another Bavarian parish.