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Opinion: He needs to stop blaming the media for the failings of his own leadership and his own church.
When I was in Germany in 2005 researching the young Ratzinger’s coming of age during World War II in Bavaria and his rise through the German church and then the Roman curia, I realized this theme of retreating from modern crisis is a theme repeated at several turns in his life.
When perhaps the greatest evil the modern world has ever known surrounded him as he came of age Hitler's Third Reich, he focused on his seminary studies. He dutifully joined Hitler Youth at age 14, turning his focus to prayer and texts and trying to avoid the horrors around him. OK, he was a very young man at that time albeit old enough to be confirmed a Catholic. I’m not suggesting that he supported Nazism just because he joined Hitler Youth. He would have had to risk his life to resist joining. But I do think it is very much worth noting that there were young German men in his town of the same age, like Rev. Rupert Berger, who was ordained a priest with the young Ratzinger on the same day, who did resist joining Hitler Youth.
My sense from reporting on those who knew Ratzinger then is that Ratzinger and his family must have clung to a faith that the war would some day pass and he would be ordained.
In the late 1960s in German colleges when radicalism was battering campuses and attacking the German establishment, he taught theology at the University of Tubingen. But he retreated from the arguments of the day again and disappeared into the comforts of conservative Bavaria and a smaller college campus where he could again focus on his internal life of prayer.
He must have figured the social revolution would pass and he would aspire to become a bishop and then a cardinal.
And in the 1980s and 1990s when he was in positions of responsibility in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the great evil that was going on with priests abusing children came to his attention, he again sought to turn away and to minimize and to blame the media and to turn inward toward the church.
When I was reporting in Rome on the priest sex abuse scandal which was erupting in Boston in 2002, I heard the Vatican line often put forward by Cardinal Ratzinger himself that the scandal was an American phenomenon and not one that concerned the worldwise Catholic church. The general view was that was all an unseemly result of a litigious society and there seemed to be more concern about containing damage church than ministering to victims. While it should be said that Ratzinger did eventually recognize the failings of the church in the scandal and the need for some action, he was late in doing so. So much damage — spiritual and financial — had already been done.
He must have believed this priest sex scandal was just an American problem and it would end some day and he would continue to play a prominent role in the church and, as fate would have it, become pope.
But I can’t understand where Joseph Ratzinger retreats to now? As the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics, Benedict XVI needs to lead and to more deeply engage the world on human terms. He needs to stop blaming the media and the modern world for its failures when the church itself has so many failures for which it still needs to answer.