Minutes after warning more than 200 priests that there will always be among them those who will betray the innocent, the archbishop of Toronto strongly defended the Pope’s actions during the most serious crisis facing the Roman Catholic Church in decades.
“This is the man who has done so much. He’s led the way,” Archbishop Thomas Collins told reporters in a courtyard of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto. “Of all the people to become the target of attacks in this, the Pope ... good grief.”
Earlier, Collins addressed the congregation at a mass for priests where they renewed their commitment to the church.
A Catholic priest’s duties set him apart and people trust him implicitly, the archbishop said. “And yet to our shame, some have used the awesome gift of the holy priesthood for base personal gratification, betraying the innocent and devastating their lives,” he told the congregation.
The church has been besieged with scandals of child abuse involving priests — and now the Pope has also come under fire for his handling of sex abuse cases when he was archbishop of Munich, and when he headed the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The Pope was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the archbishop in Munich, when a priest was allowed to resume pastoral work while receiving therapy for pedophilia. That priest was later convicted of abusing minors.
In another case, Ratzinger’s deputy told Wisconsin bishops to quash a church trial for a priest alleged to have abused more than 200 deaf boys. The Vatican has insisted that Ratzinger was unaware that the Munich priest was reassigned to the pastoral job and has defended its handling of the Wisconsin case.
On Tuesday, Collins admitted that reassigning the priest wasn’t right.
“That should not have been done. Nowadays, especially, we would never do that. And the priest has apologized for his bad judgment,” said Collins, one of the very few Catholic officials who have talked publicly about the issue.
But just talking about it is not enough, said Robert Talach, the London, Ont.-based lawyer who represents victims of Monsignor Bernard Prince of the Pembroke, Ont., diocese.
“With words must come action,” said Talach. “I would be curious to know what steps the archdiocese is taking in the face of this crisis. I mean, let’s hear it: who are the bad priests? Let the diocese open the files.”
Prince was convicted in 2008 of molesting 13 boys between 1964 and 1984. Most of the incidents occurred in the Killaloe area, near Pembroke in eastern Ontario.
He was defrocked last year.
Talach has filed 14 civil lawsuits against Prince and the Pembroke diocese. Six have been resolved; the remaining lawsuits each demand $2 million in damages.
The outspoken lawyer was also critical of Collins’ praise of the Pope. “He’s being ignorant of the facts ... this is a problem which grew to tremendous scale ... well Ratzinger was the man who was supposed to be controlling it,” said Talach. “And what is the reward: the papacy. It baffles common sense.”
But Collins said people are treating the Pope unfairly.
“As the cardinal, he was attacked for being too strict and now he’s being attacked for being too lax. He’s a fair and loving and holy man,” the archbishop told reporters. “When he sees evil, he deals with it.”
But Collins did not use the words “sexual abuse, abuse or abusive priests” in his address to the congregation.
But outside, he explained: “Priests can go wrong in many kinds of ways. There’s been sexual abuse, priests have betrayed their trusts in different ways.”
It might be tough to keep faith in the church in these times but Collins said, “People, I hope, have the wisdom to see with full reality and understand it properly.”