In an exclusive interview with RT, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, shared his ideas on the difficult situations of Christians in the Middle East, the US presidential election, and European multiculturalism.
RT: Your Holiness, first of all, let me congratulate you on your upcoming birthday. Thank you for taking the time to discuss these important –even global –issues with us. Let us talk about Christian affairs outside of Russia – specifically, about the Middle East and Northern Africa. As everyone knows, the dramatic events associated with the armed conflicts raging in the Middle East, especially in Syria, pose a threat not only to government leaders, individuals, secular regimes, etc., but to the Christian faith itself.Several months ago, you had a historic meeting with Pope Francis, during which you called upon the international community to stop the extermination and expulsion of Christians from these regions. Do you believe that enough is being done to stop this? Have you noticed any improvement since the time you made that statement? Or do you believe the situation has deteriorated?
Patriarch Kirill: I have on many occasions been forced to raise my voice – on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church – in defense of those whom I would call the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. Of all the minorities in the region, it is Christians who have been suffering the most. The statistics show an appalling dynamic: there used to be 1.5 million Christians in Iraq – now there is less than 150,000. There used to be half-a-million Christians in Syria, and now they have vanished without a trace, whether they were killed or fled the country. But the Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity, and of Christian culture. Which is why killing Christians or driving them out of the region isn’t just a crime against religion and against human rights and freedoms: it is a civilizational disaster. Because once Christian communities vanish from those countries, life there will change in every respect. Prior to the current crisis, the governments in those countries, including secular governments, had to reckon with the presence of Christians and devise their policies in a way that would ensure some kind of sectarian balance. Now there’s no need to maintain a balance. And who knows what may happen to the remaining Christian population in those countries.
So you could say our meeting with the Pope was centered on our shared concerns regarding the situation in the Middle East. We were genuinely concerned, and we were both convinced that decisive action must be taken to save the Christians in those countries. Not only Christians, of course – it is important to end bloodshed as such, and I want to make it clear that we care for all those who are suffering. But while Islamic communities are not about to go extinct in those countries, Christians actually are.
So our joint declaration included a statement to this effect. Unfortunately, the subsequent developments have not brought about a political solution for this issue, although we now coordinate our Middle East efforts more extensively with the Pope. We know that the expulsion of Christians continues in those countries, among other things, and that civilians in general suffer because of what’s going on in Syria and Iraq.
It is perfectly clear that, if the nations currently engaged in the interventions in Syria and Iraq are truly committed to eradicating terrorism, and if that stated objective is their only true goal and there’s no hidden agenda, then it shouldn’t be a problem for us to join efforts and work together. After all, what is ISIS [Islamic State, formerly ISIL]? We once defeated the Nazi powers through collective efforts, and they had half of Europe enslaved. So it seems to me it should be fairly easy to do away with ISIS, and thereby resolve the refugee crisis and all the other disasters and tragedies that are rooted in this conflict. But we are not seeing that happen. So all that is left to us as Christians is to pray and, of course, work together with everyone, so that all the nations involved realize that collaboration is instrumental. We keep hearing that the coalition has its own approach, and Russia has a different stance. Well, now is the time when we can’t have two conflicting positions any longer; we need to align ourselves with each other.
That’s why I was glad to hear what US President-elect Mr. Trump said in this regard. He clearly underlined the necessity to tackle Islamist radicalism and terrorism. Hopefully that’s the objective we will move towards, in terms of Russia-US relations as well. Terrorism poses a real threat for the entire world, including Russia, the Middle East, Western Europe, and the US, which was hit hard in the early 21st century. It’s high time we pool ideas, join forces and co-operate to solve this problem that many countries and peoples are facing.
RT: We’ll get back to Western politicians in a minute, but let’s talk about Donald Trump. You said you hoped that his administration would be able to make progress with this problem. However, quite a few people believe Donald Trump is a bigot. He’s a controversial figure in the US and the world, let’s put it that way. So do you believe that once he assumes office that US-Russia relations will get better and we’ll be able move forward and resolve the situation in the Middle East, like you said?
PK: Based on what Mr. Trump said in the course of the election campaign, we can see that he does have the intention to establish a dialogue with Russia, including first and foremost when it comes to combating terrorism. That’s good; it opens up new opportunities for cooperation, which is what I hope we’re going to have in Russia-US relations in order to tackle this. I can’t really say anything about Mr. Trump beyond that. I don’t know him personally, and I don’t know much about his life, so I can only judge based on his statements, which were in stark contrast to other politicians’ stances. There was no hope in what others were saying, while Mr. Trump’s words give us hope. It’s very important for leaders of key global powers to instill hope for a better future with their policies.
RT: About that contrast between Trump’s statements and other Western leaders’ statements. Many say that Trump doesn’t hesitate to openly speak his mind and call a spade a spade. You’ve spoken on many occasions about the persecution of Christians in this region, but Western politicians shy away from the subject. The reason could be that they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or maybe it’s because of the Muslim communities in their countries or political correctness in general. Why do you think it’s not a widely discussed issue in the West? There is political correctness in Russia, too – take the legislation concerning insulting religious feelings – but to what extent do you think it prevents Western politicians from speaking about this freely?
PK: Of course, it’s in the way. It seems as if political correctness is meant to limit Christians’ freedom to practice their faith. For example, why should we use ‘X-mas’ instead of ‘Christmas’? The answer we got to this question is that we shouldn’t hurt the feelings of non-Christians. So we asked Muslims if they were offended by the word ‘Christmas’, and they said “no.” We asked if they were offended by decorated Christmas trees in the streets, and they said “no.” So if Muslims are okay with that, whose feelings are we hurting here? It’s likely it’s no one’s. In fact. Europe is a continent whose culture and even political culture is rooted in the tenets of Christianity. We are told that Europe was also influenced by Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, and that’s true, but, in terms of scale, this influence can in no way compare to the importance that Christian moral values, and the laws based on them, held for many centuries. So if Europe is now cutting itself off from its roots, it raises the question of whether this is motivated by political correctness or something else. That’s the question we, the people who lived through religious persecution in the USSR, ask. Back then it was also supposedly done in the name of human rights and liberties and a better tomorrow. But it was only the believers who the state had pressured up until perestroika. The capitalists, the bourgeoisie, the rich land owners – Soviet leaders stopped fighting them all and even the Soviet economy half-resembled a market economy, not to mention the New Economic Policy of the 1920s, but they fought the Church to the very end. There is no understanding why that was. So we’re very wary when, under the guise of political correctness and universal rights and liberties, we glimpse signs of discrimination against the people who want to be open about their Christian convictions.
RT: Why is it so hard to achieve peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims in Western Europe? Some say the reason behind this is what we call a clash of civilizations. Considering the recent migrant crisis and the problem of terrorism, do you think these cultures can co-exist peacefully, in the long term? Or should we face the truth and admit – like many politicians such as Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage do – that the policy of multiculturalism has failed?
PK: Multiculturalism has no future, because it implies different cultures mixing, different cultures and religions poured together and shaken vigorously to create a kind of cocktail. That would be impossible because of deep-rooted traditions. If multiculturalism implies weakening people’s connection to their religion and traditions, it automatically makes them victims of discrimination and forces them to be defensive; so this very approach contains a dangerous source of division, and I mean the fundamental division of the brother-against-brother kind.
There are other ways. Russia is a multiethnic country, but the idea of multiculturalism has never been promoted, not even back in the USSR. It was declared that we would have a new national identity as Soviet people, but everyone knew that Turkmens would stay Turkmens, Tajiks would stay Tajiks, Uzbeks would stay Uzbeks, Russians would stay Russians, and Jews would stay Jews.
This approach, which allows people to express their ethnic and religious identity freely, has especially flourished recently, in modern Russia. We’re not talking about any mixture or cocktail – we say that every person should stay who they are. But we all live in the same country, so all of us must observe the law and be nice to each other. And policies regarding this have to be aimed, not at erasing the lines between cultures and religions and making one cocktail out of it, but at ensuring support, rights and liberties are given to all – to each their own – so that a person of any faith can feel at home in their country, not among strangers. Implementing this model in the West could have paved the way for peaceful co-existence, but I fear that it might be too late now. It should have been done before Europe had to deal with this huge influx of migrants who represent different cultural and religious views, and who are opposed to the culture of the countries they’ve ended up in. A great deal of people have this internal resistance to Western values, and one of the reasons is this radical – I would even say aggressive – secularization. A religious person feels deeply uncomfortable living in an aggressively-secular society, same as we in the USSR felt uncomfortable living in an aggressively-atheistic society. When the aggression disappears, people start feeling affinity towards the society and country they’re living in.
RT: I’d like to hear your opinion on the current state of social institutions that the Church has traditionally upheld, such as marriage and family. Today, many of the historically Christian countries in the West are legalizing same-sex marriage. Some of them have even appointed special envoys for LGBT rights. Many in the West see it as progress and liken it to the situation with interracial marriages in the US, which used to be frowned upon and now are a part of life. So, many believe this is a step forward. What do you think of this trend?
PK: I’m deeply wary of it. What’s happening in the Western countries is that, for the first time in human history, legislation is at odds with the moral nature of human beings. What’s good and evil? Sin and righteousness? These could be defined in both religious terms and non-religious terms. If you take a good character from English, American, or Russian fiction, you will see that all of them possess the same qualities. Why? We have different cultures and different political systems, but for all of us good is good, and evil is evil, and everyone understands who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. So how do we distinguish? With our heart, with our moral nature. This moral nature, created by God, served as a foundation for the legislation which is designed. Laws defined moral values in legal terms, telling us what’s good and what’s bad. We know that stealing is bad and helping people is good, and laws define what stealing is and what the suitable punishment for it is.
Now, for the first time in human history, the law allows something that doesn’t correspond to our moral nature. The law contradicts it. It’s not the same thing, of course, but we could compare this to an extent to the apartheid in Africa or Nazi laws – when the law went against inherent moral values, people rebelled. They knew it wasn’t right; it was artificial; it was part of some ideology and not in sync with their moral nature. So the Church can never approve of this. We say that the Church can never redefine good and evil, sin and righteousness, but we don’t condemn people who have different sexual preferences. It’s on their conscience and it’s their business, but they shouldn’t be discriminated against or punished, as used to be common practice in some states. However, under no circumstances should this be accepted as a social norm no different from the social norm that stems from our moral nature, meaning marriage between a man and wife who create a family and have children. That’s why we believe this new trend poses a significant threat for the existence of the human race. The Church has to address this and say it’s a bad thing, but we’ve seen that authorities in some countries have been trying to silence clergymen. One Protestant pastor went to jail for calling same-sex marriage a sin in his sermon. Again, this is very reminiscent of what was happening under Soviet totalitarianism. In the countries that declare their commitment to freedom of speech, you can get punished for expressing your opinion. That’s a dangerous trend, and I hope it will peter out and the natural order of things will prevail. I don’t even want to think about what might happen to us otherwise. Our prayers and our work are so that humanity lives on and follows the principles dictated by our moral nature.
RT: Speaking of Protestants… During your meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, you expressed your concerns over the Church of England’s recent liberalization, namely its decision to ordain women and its rather modernist stance on marriage and morality. But how can you make Christian values appeal to modern-day youth that keeps turning away from the Church, especially in the West. How can we bring them back?
PK: I don’t think that the tendency of young people rejecting Christian values is a natural process. It is the result of their minds being influenced in a certain way, and we are not talking just about youth here. Just look at what’s out there – movies, television, literature. There is a clear ideological paradigm aimed at dismantling religious and moral values. And it is not always a direct confrontation. They just paint this happy, full life – without God and without the moral obligation to weigh your actions listening to the voice of conscience. It means that God is being purposefully forced out of a person’s life. It is not just some accidental trend. But it’s actually turning out this way. We know that history can unfold in different directions. When evil in this world reaches a certain point, it begins to prevail. In those cases good appears to lose. Today Christians are a minority. The values we preach are either dismissed or ignored. Why? Because we encourage people to move upwards, walk uphill, while popular culture asks people to go in the opposite direction, move down. If a person is guided by his instincts, if civilization is built on this foundation, then of course the majority will follow this road, because it is so much easier, it doesn’t require effort or work. People want this easy life. But the Bible says that “narrow is the way that leads to life.” And this narrow way to salvation requires bravery. But if this way disappears, humanity will fall into a pit. Jesus did not convince everybody with His preaching. In fact, His earthly life ended on the Cross where He was crucified. Of course, He then rose from the dead… But some might see Him as a failure. If you don’t believe in Christ’s resurrection, then the end of His life doesn’t seem very impressive – he was executed. The same with all the apostles, except for St. John. They were all executed. So basically they seemed like a bunch of losers, they lost everything. But the message of Christ and His apostles has survived for 2,000 years – it keeps inspiring people. It has often inspired artists and writers who created their works despite this external pressure. But what’s more important is that Christ enters the hearts of many people. We see how people in Russia are starting to believe, this phenomenon is truly historic. The Church is being restored, young people are being converted. When people choose this narrow way, it will most definitely lead them to the stars. It is the road to heaven, to the very top. It is always difficult but it is the way of salvation.
RT: Your Holiness, thank you very much!
Isabel Allende: ‘There is a real war against women’ | USA
The world’s best-selling Spanish-language author talks feminism and love in later life as she unveils Violeta, a novel about the world between two pandemics.
Isabel Allende published her debut novel at the age of 40, finding global success with The House of the Spirits, about the tangled history of a Chilean family leading up to the years of the country’s dictatorship. This was followed by almost 30 books that have sold around 70 million copies in 42 languages. Now on the verge of turning 80, Isabel Allende lives a semi-reclusive life in San Francisco and will publish the English-language version of Violeta, her latest novel, next week. This new tale begins in the 1920s with the havoc wreaked by the so-called Spanish flu, and ends 100 years later in the midst of our own pandemic.
This perfect ellipsis is used to pay homage to her mother’s generation, though it never neglects her usual themes: domination, power, women’s aspirations to enter forbidden spaces, freedom, loyalty and love. Allende believes that Chile has a new chance with the election of the youthful left-winger Gabriel Boric, and is proud to have become a passionate old woman. She speaks openly of her marriages and relationships, of the death of her daughter Paula, and the fear of love she sees in her grandchildren’s generation.
What follows is an edited version of her interview with EL PAÍS.
Question. Your new novel, Violeta, begins with the wrongly-named Spanish flu and ends in the times of Covid-19. What a good tool literature is for tracing historical ellipses, don’t you think?
Answer. It was almost natural that it came out that way. The idea was born when my mother died, a year before the pandemic. If she had lived another year, she would have been 100 years old. She was born in a pandemic, because the flu arrived in Chile in 1920, and she would have died in another one. When she died, many people told me to write her story. We had an extraordinary relationship. But she was always submissive, first to her father and then to her husband. There is no self-fulfillment for a woman if she cannot support herself. If you depend on someone else to pay your bills, you have to bow down. And that was my mother’s fate, even though she was a very creative woman. As I wrote, not knowing what Violeta would become, I think that deep down she is the woman I would have liked my mother to be.
Q. Your mother was an artist, she painted?
A. She painted and had an eye for business. If her father and husband had listened to her, they would have ended up rich. She knew instinctively where to invest.
Q. What sets your generation apart from your mother’s? In a short time a big gap was created.
A. My generation went out on the streets, and many went to college, although I didn’t. They looked for work and they earned a living. But this is within a specific social class. The humblest and hardest workers have always supported their families; I am talking about that class of girls who were educated to be wives and mothers.
Q. You have always been interested in inventing women with grit and determination.
A. I am surrounded by them! Extraordinary women. Often I find a human model to develop as a character, but I’m overwhelmed by reality because they achieve things I would never have dreamed of.
Q. Reality itself is often an exaggeration… should we suppress that in fiction?
A. Exactly. When I wrote The Infinite Plan, based on my second husband William Gordon, there were critics who argued that no one could have all that happen to them, yet I had to cut some things out to make it believable. Fiction must be believable, and at times life is not.
Q. What are your work’s obsessions? What questions are still present and what answers have you not found?
A. They are always the same: love and death. Violence, the need for justice, loyalty and courage. And a subject that haunts me: power with impunity, both in the family and in society.
Q. You fail to mention feminism. You say that the key to that movement is not what women have between their legs, but between their ears.
If Boric manages to do half of what he intends to, it will already be a step forward
A. Of course, that has marked my whole life! We live in a patriarchy. Morals, laws, everything is mostly done by men. We women have to find loopholes to let our voices be heard. More and more often we are succeeding. But we are not there yet. There is a real war against women.
Q. The problem in the West is that there is a far right wing that maintains that the patriarchy is in danger and that the loopholes to which you allude are already too numerous. What do we do?
A. Didn’t I tell you that we live under a patriarchy? By that logic, they don’t like any gains from the other side. But women have been tearing bits and pieces out of the situation little by little. And they will succeed, but I will not be alive to see it. Even so, I feel the rumbling underground energy of young people. Look at what just happened in Chile.
Q. I was thinking that too.
A. A young man like Gabriel Boric, 35 years old, has won [a presidential election]. Who voted for him? 63% of women and three out of four young people too. I feel that energy, and that is why I am very optimistic about the future. They are not going to stand idly by as these old fogeys run the world.
Q. What do you think these elections crystallized?
A. What has been going on for many years. Inequality, discontent, corruption and impunity produced an outburst in 2019. They did not really know what they were demanding. It was not just the price of a subway ticket, although that served as an excuse: it was privatization, the state of education, the scandalously miserable pensions, the complete corruption of the whole system. They demanded a new constitution. Democratic, and not imposed from above as has happened with all of them since the beginning. The pandemic sent everyone home and it all seemed to be frozen, but the election came along and it had not been forgotten, far from it. Things are happening there.
Q. Of course.
A. If Boric manages to do half of what he intends to, it will already be a step forward. His acceptance speech summarized in 17 minutes the great aspirations I have for Chile: inclusion, equality, women, diversity, democracy, respect for nature. If he succeeds, it will be a huge step forward. If the CIA doesn’t get involved, of course.
Q. How has that young woman who you once were, going into exile, been stirred up during the months of campaigning?
A. It’s been a long time. We live in another country, in another world. I notice a little wink from Boric to Allende. But I never think about that girl anymore.
Q. Is she someone you have definitely left behind?
A. Yes, deep down, when I go to Chile, I feel like a foreigner. The dictatorship changed it completely. It’s another country. I feel Chilean if I talk to people, but if I go there, I feel as foreign as in the United States, where I live.
Q. So you define yourself as a foreigner and you’re not at all nostalgic?
A. I am nostalgic for that time when I felt I belonged somewhere. But it is a sentimental, romantic and very unrealistic nostalgia.
Q. A kind of nostalgia, on the other hand, that is good for your work?
A. Yes, because that’s where my roots nourish me. This last book, for example, although I never mention it, I could not have written it if I did not come from Chile. I carry it here, in my heart.
Q. Violeta also carries things in her heart. For example, when one does the formula “wife plus mother equals boredom,” it’s mathematics. Isn’t it the same equation that you confess to having experienced in your first marriage?
A. Yes, it certainly draws on personal experiences. My first husband, Miguel Frías, was like Violeta’s first husband: respectable and a good person. Then came the passion I experienced in Venezuela with an Argentinean. He made me leave that first husband and my children, but it didn’t last, and I quickly became disillusioned. When I feel that affection, mutual respect and admiration is over, that’s it. Ciao!
I think it takes more courage to stay in a relationship that doesn’t work than to leave
Q. Even so, you got married again.
A. Yes, to a fascinating, adventurous man who at first you weren’t sure if he was a criminal or not, and that was Willie Gordon. But that too ended when I noticed that on his side the affection had stopped. I could have gone on, but as soon as I realized it, it was “Ciao!” again. I got divorced at 74 and people said, “What? You are going to be all alone.” Well, I think it takes more courage to stay in a relationship that doesn’t work than to leave.
Q. And then Roger came into your life. Your third partner.
A. Roger gives me what I need: a lot of love. The rest I can get on my own. But I can’t allow myself that unless I get it as a gift. And he gives it to me!
Q. Does this fulfill your aspiration to become what you were looking for, a passionate old woman?
A. I’ve been training all my life for that. Don’t you think that you can just get to old age and be passionate, you have to train for it.
A. By taking risks. By throwing yourself into adventures, participating in life with curiosity about others and the world, not settling in where you feel good. I see young people my grandchildren’s age who have cautious relationships, who don’t want to suffer. What are you going to do with your life if you don’t want to suffer?
Q. They are often overprotected by their parents. Is that good or unrealistic? Shouldn’t they suffer a little more?
A. That’s what I say, let them suffer a little. Gentle neglect works well for children. That’s how I raised Paula and Nicolás. I held down three jobs simultaneously when I was raising them, I didn’t have time to keep an eye on what they were doing. I suppose they took a lot of risks and did stupid things, but they also grew up without me monitoring everything.
Q. The happiest moments of your life, you say, were when you held them in your arms for the first time, and the saddest, when you held Paula, who was dying. Have you been able to turn that grief into something positive?
A. Yes, into action. Writing the book about my daughter, Paula, helped me to put it into words, to understand what had happened. Her year-long agony was a very dark night. Everything was a haze of pain and anguish. When I started organizing it, based on things I had written to my mother and the notes I took, I realized that my daughter’s only way out was death. I had to accept it, understand it, try to get rid of the rage I had built up from that neglect that gave her severe brain damage. Nobody tried to hurt her on purpose; it was a series of circumstances. I received thousands of letters, as there was no internet. And by answering them, all of them, I was developing a communication process with people. Everyone has suffered losses and pain. That was extraordinary. I feel Paula everywhere. I won’t say I’m seeing ghosts, but it’s a very strong feeling. And the proceeds from that book went to a foundation that is dedicated to doing what she would be doing if she were alive, defending the fundamental rights of women and children.
Q. Which is more painful and which is celebratory, writing about one’s parents or one’s children?
A. I don’t know. I make use of them all: parents, grandparents, children, cousins… When I published The Sum of Our Days, my son Nicolás told me: “Please, mom, don’t ever write about me again. I have a private life and I don’t want to expose my family.” And I didn’t. It’s been 15 years since that memoir and no more.
Q. After Paula, in Aphrodite you paid tribute to aphrodisiacs. Did it work for you?
A. I was lucky that book was published four months before Viagra appeared. Otherwise, not a single copy would have been sold.
Q. Thank goodness!
A. After Paula was published, I couldn’t write anything. Everything came out flat, gray, boring, impossible. I remembered that I was a journalist and I looked for a subject that was as far away from grief as possible: love, gluttony, sex. And the bridge between these are aphrodisiacs, so when I researched and tested the recipes with friends…
Q. Tell me which ones really work.
A. None, the only thing that works is imagination.
Q. The same in men as in women?
A. Especially with women, we romanticize everything, we get sentimental, we make up stories because we find that much more stimulating than anything else. Men are very visual. I don’t know if Playboy magazine still exists. They have tried to make those magazines for women and they don’t work. They’re bought by homosexuals. We don’t get turned on by seeing a half-naked man, we get turned on by having something whispered in our ear. The G-spot is in the ear, you don’t need to look for it elsewhere.
Q. Wise advice at almost 80 years old!
A. I’m almost there!
Q. Do you plan your books much?
A. Nooooo! Except if they deal with historical episodes. I’ve learned after 40 years of writing to relax, to not try to force either the story or the characters with what I previously thought it should be. If I let myself go by instinct and enjoyment, discovering what happens, it usually works much better. There is a very intuitive part to writing.
Q. Many consider you to be one of the very few female voices of the Latin American Boom, a very masculine movement.
A. Well, that’s what they said when House of the Spirits appeared, that I was the only woman in that movement. But then they quickly erased me, I don’t know why, and labeled me as post-Boom. And you know what? Nobody likes to be considered “post” anything.
Former pope Benedict criticised in Munich church abuse report
German investigators have said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was aware of a paedophile priest in his former Munich archdiocese and dismissed as “not credible” his claims he did not attend a key meeting where the cleric was discussed.
On Thursday, lawyers commissioned by the Catholic archdiocese of Munich and Freising presented a report identifying 497 cases of clerical sexual abuse and identified 235 perpetrators – with 42 cases now passed on to state prosecutors.
The report is based on examination of archdiocese files and identifies two cases in which prosecutors say the current archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, breached church rules and did not report abusers to the Holy See.
The report found that 40 of the perpetrator priests identified were known to their superiors at the time of their abuse yet allowed to continue their pastoral work, with many moved to new parishes unaware of their behaviour. Only a handful of priests were punished and laicised.
In the case of Benedict, who served as Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger from 1977 to 1982 in Bavaria, investigators uncovered four cases of abusing priests during that time but “no indication” the archbishop was interested in abuse victims.
In response to a catalogue of written questions, the retired pope provided an 82-page written response rejecting claims he knew of abusing priests during his time heading the archdiocese.
“We consider the information from Pope Benedict to be not credible,” said Dr Ulrich Wastl, one of the investigators at a press conference.
Presenting the four-volume report, he said it revealed a “shocking picture” of an institution that, for decades, ignored victims of clerical sexual abuse. Those who took note of survivors, he added, were usually seen “as a danger for the institution”.
Co-investigator Marion Westphal said they had uncovered a “terrible phenomenon of cover-up”. After this report, their second for the Munich archdiocese in a decade, she said the time of investigation had passed and the time of “individual guilt” had come.
The investigators declined to say what consequences, if any, the report should have for the 94-year-old former pontiff.
An entire volume of the report is devoted to one priest who was moved from the diocese of Essen to Munich-Freising in January 1980 for treatment for his paedophile tendencies.
More than two dozen men, in both dioceses, are on record as saying they were sexually abused as teenagers by the priest, identified only as Peter H, often after he gave them alcohol and showed them pornography.
When the case first came to light a decade ago, Munich and Rome moved quickly to insist Benedict, then still pope, had known nothing of the abuse during his time as archbishop.
Ahead of Thursday’s report, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, private secretary to the retired pope, insisted it was “incorrect to claim [Ratzinger] had knowledge of the previous history [claims of sexual assault] at the point of the decision to accept the priest H. He had no knowledge of this previous history.”
In his written response to investigators, the retired pope insists he did not attend a meeting on January 15th, 1980, at which the priest was accepted for therapy.
But a 2016 internal report, commissioned by the Munich archdiocese, disagrees, saying Ratzinger, “knowing the facts” about the priest accepted him and “ignored” a 1962 obligation to report the priest to Rome.
On Thursday, investigating lawyers presented details from the minutes of the January 1980 meeting at which the transfer of the priest was discussed, indicating that the archbishop attended.
The investigating lawyers said they “regretted deeply” that Cardinal Marx declined an invitation to attend Thursday’s presentation. He will make a statement in the afternoon and hold a press conference in a week’s time, after he has had time to read the 1,000-page report.
Planned review of State agencies’ actions dropped in 2018
A proposed inquiry into the sexual abuse and neglect of several children by family members in the Munster area, to examine the actions of State agencies in the case, was previously shelved.
The review, announced in 2018, was halted after a number of months due to concerns raised by those conducting the work and the government’s legal adviser over fears it could prejudice criminal investigations.
On Tuesday, five family members were sentenced and jailed over the abuse and neglect, after earlier being found guilty by a jury of a total of 77 counts against the children following a 10-week trial last summer.
The family members were the parents, aunt and uncles of the children, and cannot be named for legal reasons. They were all found guilty of sexually abusing the three eldest children between 2014 and 2016, while the parents were found guilty of wilfully neglecting five of the children, who ranged in age from one to nine during this period.
Following initial media reports in early 2018, then minister for children Katherine Zappone announced she was to commission an independent review into the serious case of abuse and neglect.
The review was to include an examination of the actions of An Garda Síochána and Tusla, and how they responded to the case.
The children came to the attention of the State’s social services in 2011, and there was extensive engagement between social workers and the family over several years, the trial heard.
Following years of severe neglect, the children were removed from the family home by Tusla in 2016, and placed in foster care. Later that year the eldest child made a disclosure about sexual abuse to his foster parents, which Tusla referred to gardaí, who later opened an investigation.
The proposed independent review of the case was to be led by Dr Geoffrey Shannon, child law expert and former special rapporteur on child protection. A three-person review panel would also include child welfare consultant Suzanne Phelan and retired Garda chief superintendent Pádraig Kennedy.
Internal Department of Children records show officials were in regular contact with Dr Shannon about the proposed review over several months in 2018, before it was halted.
It is understood those involved in the review raised concerns about the work impacting on the criminal case, which were shared by then attorney general Séamus Woulfe, and led to the review being dropped.
A 2019 briefing note from Fergal Lynch, department secretary general, said it “did not prove possible to frame terms of reference that successfully guarded against the dangers of pre-empting the criminal cases that were in process”.
“After a number of months it had to be postponed, because the Attorney General was very concerned about the potential effect on criminal cases pending,” he wrote in the note, released under the Freedom of Information Act.
In a statement on Wednesday, Tulsa said it would review the Munster abuse case “when appropriate to identify any learnings or insights that can be gained from our involvement in the lives of the children and their families”. The agency said its main focus continued to be to “support the children who were the victims in this case”.
No reasons recorded for low rates of successful speeding prosecutions
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