Actually, it was only supposed to be a routine visit: The regular report of a bishops' conference president on a national bishops' meeting to the pope and the curia. Of course, in view of the abuse scandals in Germany, Friday's papal audience for Archbishop Robert Zollitsch is attracting special attention in the media, politics and the church.
For the constantly newly reported cases of sexual as well as violent assaults by priests, often dating back 40 or more years, have put the German church in an explosive position and triggered a debate at different legal levels. Zollitsch meets in Benedict XVI. an interlocutor who, as a cardinal of the Curia, has already taken decisive and consistent action against cases of abuse by clerics like hardly anyone else. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he urged clear norms in the fight against sexual crimes committed by clergy against minors. His predecessor John Paul II. in 2001, in the letter "De delictis gravioribus", decreed that in the future all "particularly serious crimes" were to be reported to the supreme Roman authority for the faith as the highest ecclesiastical court. As cardinal prefect, Ratzinger played a leading role in guiding the U.S. bishops, who nearly a decade ago sought a convincing way out of the devastating series of scandals in the U.S. clergy in Rome and with the Vatican. As pope, he then made personal apologies to the victims of these despicable abuses with his trip to the U.S. in 2008. During his visit to New York, as he did a little later in Australia, Benedict XVI gave. He proposed an ecclesiastical three-step plan. He clarified that a pedophile cannot be a priest, thus he should be excluded from the priesthood. The acts would have to be dealt with on a legal and political level, justice would have to be done for the victims, and pastoral assistance would have to be provided. And, crucially, effective preventive mechanisms, beginning with the selection of seminarians and including the accompaniment of pastors. "I am ashamed, and we will do everything possible so that something like this does not happen again," Benedict XVI said. On his trip to the U.S. This three-step plan brought Benedict XVI. in mid-February to the Irish bishops, who have been rocked by a series of scandals similar to those in the U.S. Ireland's episcopate had also turned to the Vatican for papal authority to find a way out of the crisis of trust and credibility. It is considered unlikely that there will now be a similar cooperative reappraisal by the Vatican and the German church. Shortly after the publication of the Roman norms of 2001 and against the background of the U.S. scandals, the German Bishops' Conference had already ied its own guidelines on how to proceed in cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics. Legal experts in the Vatican describe these norms as good and very far-reaching. Admittedly, some formulations could be made even clearer in order to avoid misunderstandings in view of the practice already in force. One of the neuralgic points is the question of when the church should inform the public prosecutor's office about cases of abuse – a question on which German state criminal law has so far made no provisions in the case of child abuse. Otherwise, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi found that the bishops' conference and religious leaders had responded promptly, decisively and with a desire for transparency to the scandal allegations. It would distort the perspective to focus allegations of sexual abuse solely on the church, he added. Zollitsch will now report to the pope on the state of affairs. Certainly Benedict XVI. and its most important employees are already largely up to date, even if the Vatican has so far held back with an evaluation of the events in the German-speaking countries. Of course, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is concerned with the canonical side of the "delicta graviora", with the violations of priests against the sacrament of penance and the commandment of chastity. However, this internal church area – quite different from the criminal side of abuse – is subject to papal secrecy. The Vatican is convinced that all other ies are in good hands with the German Bishops' Conference. Further words from Rome in this regard could be misunderstood in the emotionally charged situations, was one of the fears in the Curia. For example, to avoid equating German conditions with the more drastic abuses in the U.S. and Ireland.