Fast on the heels of the news that a Bavarian boys choir directed by Pope Benedict’s brother was a hotbed of physical and sexual abuse for decades, comes the allegation that Cardinal Gerhard Müller covered up the abuse when he was the bishop of Regensburg.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, the allegation is being made by the former head of the lay diocesan council in Regensburg, Germany, who said that Müller and a deputy “systematically” covered up the abuse, disbanded the diocesan council to thwart outside investigation, and installed at least one known abuser priest in a parish who then committed more acts of abuse.
Müller has served as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the second most powerful position in the Vatican, since 2012 and has emerged as one of the most outspoken opponents of Pope Francis’ efforts to modernize church practices around marriage and divorce and the treatment of gay Catholics.
He also oversaw the disciplining of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) for its supposed disobedience to the Vatican and was widely criticized for the public dressing down he gave the nuns in 2014.
If the allegations hold up, Müller will be the third prefect of the CDF to be accused of turning a blind eye to reports of sexual abuse. Benedict has been accused of allowing serial abuser Father Marcial Maciel to hold an exalted position in the church for decades while he was prefect of the CDF despite credible charges of abuse.
Cardinal William Joseph Levada, who held the position after Benedict, came under fire for how he handled charges of abuse when he was the bishop of Portland and San Francisco. Like Benedict, who was given a report on Maciel that he disregarded, Levada reportedly received a brief in the mid-1980s from a three-priest panel on the brewing U.S. abuse scandal that he ignored.
And like Müller, who said in 2012 that responsibility for sexual abuse lay only with the perpetrators, Levada denied that bishops had “aided and abetted” abuse by failing to remove abusers or moving them from parish to parish. Eventually, the diocese of Portland that Levada headed for nearly a decade was the first to declare bankruptcy because of the magnitude of abuse suits it had to settle.
What does it mean for the church that the last three heads of the CDF have been implicated in covering up sexual abuse at a time when Pope Francis has promised transparency on the issue? The tribunal that Pope Francis created last June to judge cases of bishop inaction or cover-up of abuse is housed in the CDF.
And what does it mean for the sex-related doctrine guarded so ferociously by the CDF, doctrine on everything from birth control to women priests to marriage, that has been overseen for the past 35 years by a succession of men whose vigorous defense of doctrinal orthodoxy may be directly proportionate to their need to deny the reality of sexual deviance within the church?