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Sad But Not Surprising: Of Course People Celebrated Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's Death, Misled on Legacy

ANDREW MEDICHINI

As Madeline covered at the time, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI passed away on December 31 at the Vatican. He was 95-years-old, the longest-living person to be pope. His successor, Pope Francis, had been warning in the days before that the former pope was in poor health and needed prayers. Even before the former pope, who was born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, actually died, haters on Twitter were already preparing to dance on his grave. 

Once Benedict had passed from this life into the next, however, then the celebrations really could get started. Popular narratives to bring up about the former pope included how he was part of the Hitler Youth program when he was 14-years-old. What these ignorant haters refuse to acknowledge, though, is that Ratzinger, like others, was forcibly conscripted into the Nazi propaganda program. He didn't have a choice.

The Associated Press has its problems at times, but as Madeline highlighted in her piece, Nicole Winfield's report for the outlet made reference to how Ratzinger addressed it in his own memoirs. 

"Born April 16, 1927, in Marktl Am Inn, in Bavaria, Benedict wrote in his memoirs of being enlisted in the Nazi youth movement against his will in 1941, when he was 14 and membership was compulsory. He deserted the German army in April 1945, the waning days of the war," Winfield mentioned. He was also a prisoner of war, until the war's end, for deserting.

Kevin Clancy, who on Twitter goes by @KFCBarstool, tweeted with strong language about Ratzinger's time spent in Hitler Youth. 

The tweet from the day that his death was announced, was slapped with a message of added context by Twitter readers, which linked to an ABC News article by Susan Donaldson James, from February 11, 2013, titled "Pope Benedict Dogged By Hitler Youth Past, Despite Jewish Support."

As the relevant excerpt in question read:

"When he was elected pope a lot of alarm bells went off in the Jewish community," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who had a one-hour private audience with Benedict when he became pope. "First, it was about the Nazi aspect."

The Wiesenthal Center launched an investigation into Benedict's role in the Third Reich only to discover the Ratzingers came from a family of anti-Nazis, with no hint of antisemitism.

"The fact that he was in the Hitler youth -- if you were a young child during the Third Reich and you didn't go, you'd be condemned," said Hier. "He didn't volunteer. That's not a blemish. We've done a bunch of research, and that should be very clear."

Clancy, to his credit, did ultimately concede the point, potentially as a result of the added context as well as the over 1,300 replies and over 400 quote retweets taking issue with his claim. Our friends at Twitchy highlighted some of the most brutal ways in which people reacted. He moved on to focusing on another narrative when it comes to criticisms over how Benedict handled the the clergy sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.

As part of a thread that included his tweet above that involved added context, Clancy also tweeted out that Benedict "was like THE guy when it came to covering up sexual abuse."

In this instance, the added context linked to another report from Winfield for the Associated Press, from January 1. "While blamed, Benedict fought sex abuse more than past popes," her headline read. 

As her piece mentioned:

As cardinal and pope, Benedict pushed through revolutionary changes to church law to make it easier to defrock predator priests, and he sacked hundreds of them. He was the first pontiff to meet with abuse survivors. And he reversed his revered predecessor on the most egregious case of the 20th century Catholic Church, finally taking action against a serial pedophile who was adored by St. John Paul II’s inner circle.

...

But Benedict did more than any of his predecessors combined, and especially more than John Paul, under whose watch the wrongdoing exploded publicly. And after initially dismissing the problem, Pope Francis followed in Benedict’s footsteps and approved even tougher protocols designed to hold the hierarchy accountable.

Winfield also makes note of how he did try to act, even before becoming pope:

In 2001, Ratzinger persuaded John Paul to let him take hold of the problem head on, ordering all abuse cases be sent to his office for review. He hired a relatively unknown canon lawyer, Charles Scicluna, to be his chief sex crimes prosecutor and together they began taking action. 

“We used to discuss the cases on Fridays; he used to call it the Friday penance,” recalled Scicluna, Ratzinger’s prosecutor from 2002 to 2012 and now the archbishop of Malta.

Under Ratzinger’s watch as cardinal and pope, the Vatican authorized fast-track administrative procedures to defrock egregious abusers. Changes to church law allowed the statute of limitations on sex abuse to be waived on a case-by-case basis; raised the age of consent to 18; and expanded the norms protecting minors to also cover “vulnerable adults.”

The changes had immediate impact: Between 2004 and 2014 — Benedict’s eight-year papacy plus a year on either end — the Vatican received about 3,400 cases, defrocked 848 priests and sanctioned another 2,572 to lesser penalties, according to the only Vatican statistics ever publicly released.

...

Among the first cases on Ratzinger’s agenda after 2001 was gathering testimony from victims of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Mexico-based Legionaries of Christ religious order. Despite volumes of documentation in the Vatican dating from the 1950s showing Maciel had raped his young seminarians, the priest was courted by John Paul’s Curia because of his ability to bring in vocations and donations.

“More than the hurt that I received from Maciel’s abuse, later on, stronger was the hurt and the abuse of power from the Catholic Church: the secrecy, ignoring my complaints,” said Juan Vaca, one of Maciel’s original victims who along with other former seminarians filed a formal canonical case against Maciel in 1998.

Their case languished for years as powerful cardinals who sat on Ratzinger’s board, including Cardinal Angelo Sodano, John Paul’s powerful secretary of state, blocked any investigation. They claimed the allegations against Maciel were mere slander.

But Ratzinger finally prevailed and Vaca testified to Scicluna on April 2, 2005, the very day that John Paul died.

Ratzinger was elected pope two weeks later, and only then did the Vatican finally sanction Maciel to a lifetime of penance and prayer.

Benedict then took another step and ordered an in-depth investigation into the order that determined in 2010 that Maciel was a religious fraud who sexually abused his seminarians and created a cult-like order to hide his crimes.

Even Francis has credited Benedict’s “courage” in going after Maciel, recalling that “he had all the documentation in hand” in the early 2000s to take action against Maciel but was blocked by others more powerful than he until he became pope. 

“He was the courageous man who helped so many,” Francis said.

Further, Clancy has still been referring to the former pope as "Nazi Pope," as recently as Monday afternoon. 

Clancy wasn't the only one, though. POLITICO's Eric Geller had quite the tweet, which he ultimately deleted, after users similarly attacked him, as our friends at Twitchy also highlighted

Geller addressed the tweet later that day, which he acknowledged was "offensive and in poor judgment."

While Geller restricted replies, there were still over 550 quoted retweets responding, including from non-Catholics reiterating how vile the initial tweet was.

While there were some pleasant surprises with the mainstream media covering Benedict's legacy, there were also some predicable headlines too, from the usual suspects. 

Since his death, The Washington Post has published seven pieces on the former pope. At 9:45am EST on December 31, Claire Parker wrote the headline about "The significant — and controversial — statements that shaped Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy." Curiously, it does not appear that the outlet tweeted out Parker's piece, though. 

In reaction to the headline highlighting a non-liberal figure was "controversial," Virginia Del. Nick Freitas, a Republican, pointed out that the outlet saves praise for terrorists.

The Washington Post had certainly raised some eyebrows in the past by referring to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as an "austere religious scholar" and to Qasem Soleimani as "Iran’s most revered military leader."

The funeral for Benedict will be held on Thursday, January 5, at St. Peter's Basilica, and will be similar to that of other popes. He currently is lying in state. 

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