Growing up during the pontificate of John Paul II, it was easy to fall in love with the figure of the pope. His warm, sincere smile, his grandfatherly presence, his constant words of encouragement, and his admonitions to create a culture of life were all extremely attractive to a young, conservative Catholic like me.
My pastor, a kind, elderly man (may he rest in peace) who incorporated great reverence into his Masses at an otherwise run-of-the-mill post-conciliar parish, sent me to World Youth Day with John Paul II in Denver in 1993. Not so secretly, he hoped that I — one of his head altar boys — would be a priest. (He used to ask me if I liked ice cream. If I said yes, he would smile and say it was a sign I had a vocation.)
My experience in Denver was eye opening, and not in the way Father hoped. It was the first time I came face to face with how distorted post-conciliar Catholicism had become, and I‘ve written about the experience at some length. But even so, I couldn’t even conceive of blaming it on John Paul II. I just figured it was the fault of the organizers of the event.
It got a bit harder to make excuses for him, though, when I left my time with the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi, and they wielded the explicit approval of JPII like a shield against any criticism of their organization or methods. It got harder still when I was not only proven right about Maciel being corrupt, but when he was demonstrated to have been one of the most demonic clerical sexual predators in Church history. How much cover did JPII give this man? How many years did he continue his crimes under that protection?
In a piece today at LifeSiteNews, John-Henry Westen breaks down some new allegations of criminal sexual abuse at the Vatican that will only deepen our cynicism about hero-popes. He specifically mentions, in fact, JPII’s protection of Maciel:
The reputation of Pope St. John Paul II’s pontificate was marred significantly as the revelations of sexual abuse by Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel came to light. A source close to Pope John Paul II told LifeSite that John Paul II could not bring himself to believe the accusations since Maciel masqueraded as a conservative, and in John Paul’s native Poland the Communists often accused faithful priests of sexual abuse so as to damage their reputations.
A group of eight former Legionary seminarians first went to the Vatican to lodge abuse complaints in 1998, but it took until 2006 for Maciel to be removed from all public ministry, and only after the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
But the new allegations surround Pope Benedict XVI’s own failures. Benedict, despite dealing at last with Maciel, and taking “decisive action to reaffirm a ban on homosexual men from seminary, responding to the finding that the vast majority of abuse perpetrated by priests was homosexual in nature,” nevertheless appears to have failed to deal with a monster in his own midst. One he worked with personally.
The allegations in question surround Monsignor Christoph Kühn, a German priest who, at the time of the alleged crimes, was a senior official in the Vatican Secretariat of State:
Monsignor Florian Kolfhaus and a second man – a former priest – both allege that Kühn violently compelled them into sexual masochistic acts.
Kolfhaus first lodged a complaint against Kühn at the Vatican in 2006. He testifies that his abuse took place inside the offices of the Secretariat of State, as well as inside the Casa Santa Marta, a residence for Vatican prelates.
But it appears no formal investigation was launched until 2019, in spite of the fact that the Report of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Delegate for the Pontifical Representations, was presented to the Superiors of the Secretariat of State on July 3, 2006.
Kühn’s case is now being heard by criminal courts in Germany. Kolfhaus will attend his first hearing on Monday, September 7.
So how significant of a figure was Kuhn in the pontificate of Benedict XVI? Very:
Kühn was the head of the German Section of the Secretariat of State in the Vatican from 2001 till 2008. This position put him in charge of vetting priests and bishops from Germany for elevations, and as such he was privy to all the personnel records of these prelates. Being in such a high position and involved in the German church, Kühn was often in close contact with Pope Benedict XVI both after his 2005 election and prior to that in his role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
As head of the German Section until 2008, Kühn organized Benedict’s trips to Germany, traveled with him on the papal plane, and was often photographed side by side with him at official receptions such as that with German President Horst Kohler in 2005 during his visit to Cologne, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, as well as the future Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Kühn was seen as a “conservative” — a categorization that has repeatedly been proven to mean little to nothing within the Church — and in fact spearheaded the attempt to radically change “the ‘political line’ of the Bishops’ Conference in Germany on the participation of the German bishops in the national system regarding abortion legislation.”
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò intervened in the case in January of this year, providing testimony for an ecclesiastical investigation into the case. He had knowledge as the former Delegate for the Pontifical Representations at the Secretariat of State, “which was responsible for the personnel of the Roman Curia subordinate to the Substitute of the Secretary of State.”
Viganò’s testimony, according to LifeSite, said that he was “aware of precise information regarding the harassment and all kinds of abuses committed by Msgr. Christoph Kühn against Msgr. Florian Kolfhaus.” Viganò also confirmed that he knew Kolfhaus “informed various individuals of the abuse including a superior at the Secretariat of State and also a Bishop in charge of preparation of candidates for diplomatic service for the Vatican.”
Among these was the current Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin.
There are a number of details on the case and in support of its credibility that merit further examination, and I won’t do the disservice to LifeSite of quoting them excessively here. They did the investigative work, and I recommend that you read Westen’s entire report. It deserves full consideration.
But the bombshell in the report bears repeating here:
Two sources close to Pope Benedict spoke anonymously to LifeSite about this matter, suggesting that Kühn was moved to Vienna because his scandalous sexual behavior (some believed to be consensual) became too well known. One said that the Pope moved Kühn knowing of the problems and even asked Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, to take Kühn into his diocese but Meisner refused. Another source stated: “When it became known that he [Kühn] had harassed various young men (among them also Kolfhaus), he was removed by Benedict XVI from the Vatican and sent to Vienna.” This source insisted, defending the Pope, that Benedict did personally intervene and that he punished Kühn two times by sending him into less important positions, first to Vienna (2008) and then to Eichstätt (2012), this time removing him from the diplomatic service.
Pope Benedict was the Roman Pontiff of the Catholic Church from 2005 until 2013.
Another source from Benedict’s circle however suggests that Benedict did not know of the matter and it was handled either by the then Secretary of State himself (now-Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone) or the then-Substitute (now-Cardinal Fernando Filoni).
LifeSite reached out to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, via his personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein, asking for comment, but did not receive a reply.
In the court files, currently with the State Attorney, a man who was employed in a high-ranking position by the diocese of Eichstätt sums up what he was told by higher-ups in the diocese concerning Kühn. He was warned to be “cautious” around Kühn “because of his somewhat difficult past.” When he asked for further information, both the finance director of the diocese and the Vicar General informed him that Kühn was known to have had some “unresolved encounters” during his station in Africa that were related to the “homosexuality of the prelate Kühn.” During his time in Vienna, they added, “it went so wild he was forbidden entrance into a hotel.”
According to this source, the Vicar General told him that the official reason for Kühn’s dismissal from Vienna was the “story with the hotel” as well as “additional non-consensual sexual contacts during his diplomatic stations.”
In the midst of this scandal in April 2011, Pope Benedict awarded Kühn a special designation as “Prelate of Honour of His Holiness,” a papal designation that often comes after a number of years of service in the diplomatic corps of the Vatican.
Does anyone remember how Benedict XVI also put Ted McCarrick under unofficial (and unenforced) sanctions?
For a man with the reputation of being a “panzerkardinal” and “God’s Rottweiler,” he seems to have been quite the wilting flower when it came to dealing with serious clerical abusers.
It’s time for Catholics to stop hero-worshipping popes. It’s time to stop imagining that they’re some special class of men who are automatically holier and closer to God in virtue of their office and thus guided by mystical forces we can’t comprehend. If a history replete with vile and vicious popes hasn’t demonstrated that to us yet, the crop of contemporary popes should drive the point home. There’s been a lot of this mythos around Benedict in particular — it’s become something of a cottage industry among those who think he’s still the pope, or engaged in some mysterious divinely-ordered ruse in his “bifurcation of the papacy” — and nothing I’ve seen tells me that this adulation is warranted. Despite wistful imaginings that he abandoned his post at the prompting of some interior dialogue with God, what I see is a man who, like all of us, is flawed and sinful and makes mistakes. Do I believe he wills the good of the Church? Yes. Do I believe he’s guilty of failures in that duty? Absolutely – particularly as regards his early forays into modernism, and his late abdication and years of silence about the errors and abuses of his successor in office, even as he has habitually failed to keep his promised silence from within the enclosure of his Vatican monastery.
If Benedict failed to deal with an apparent monster like Kühn when he had all the power and authority to do so, it is at best a shame, and possibly even a crime. It is precisely this sort of failure of judgment that derailed Fr. John Hardon’s cause for canonization. But in Benedict’s case, he had the ability to act decisively, not merely to investigate. The evidence points to the fact that he did not.
Pious papism has its merits in times when popes are actually saints, but the dangers inherent in taking the sentiment too far are becoming increasingly clear. We just can’t afford to be Pollyannas about the papacy any longer.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.