By Michael Baggot
LOS ANGELES, CA, April 21, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – After admitting Friday night that his early descriptions of Pope Benedict XVI as a Nazi were false, comedian Bill Maher went on to claim that the pontiff deserves to be in jail for not addressing priests guilty of child molestation.
“So, on that score, you know what, my Catholic friends, I will never make the ‘pope is a Nazi’ joke again. Because, you’re technically right, OK, and also because it distracts from the main point,” said Maher on his weekly HBO program Real Time with Bill Maher.
“And the main point I was making was that if the pope, instead of a religious figure, was the CEO of a chain of nationwide day care centers who had thousands of employees who had been caught molesting children and then covering it up, he would have been in jail.”
“We accept Maher’s apology for accusing the pope of being a Nazi. Too bad he didn’t stop there. For him to suggest that Pope Benedict XVI was in charge of policing molesters, and failed in doing so, is patently absurd,” responded Catholic League president Bill Donohue.
Donohue went on to note that Cardinal Ratzinger’s position as head of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) entailed monitoring the teaching of theologians, not their moral conduct. He also argued that it was unfair to blame the Pope for instances of sex abuse across the world.
“Maher has to understand that no one person, including the pope, could possibly be held accountable for the behavior of its employees in a global institution. There are priests from Boston to Bosnia, and it is simply preposterous for any one person to know exactly what is going on everywhere at any given time.”
“Maher would have been better advised to focus on those bishops who proved to be enablers – it is the bishop’s job to know what is going on in his diocese, not the pope’s,” added Donohue.
TV personality Bill O’Reilly weighed in on the controversy, suggesting that Maher would no longer have his job if his comments were directed at a group other than the Catholic Church.
“Can you imagine if Maher had castigated a Jewish or Muslim leader like that? Or if he had branded a minority group with that kind of description? The American media would slaughter him,” said O’Reilly.
“When confronted by the Catholic League on why it continues to give Maher air time, HBO stated that Maher’s anti-Catholic remarks were a matter of ‘creative freedom.’ One wonders if HBO would be so sanguine if Maher’s vitriol was regularly aimed at Muslims,” wrote Kristen Fyfe in a Townhall column.
The American Life League pro-life organization has launched a website devoted to getting the comedian fired (www.firebillmaher.com). The organization is encouraging Catholics and supporters of Benedict XVI to sign the petition and to boycott HBO until Maher is removed.
The controversy started with remarks Maher made on the April 11 episode of his program. Maher called the Catholic Church a “child-abusing religious cult” and “the Bear Stearns of organized pedophilia.”
Maher claimed that Pope Benedict XVI “used to be a Nazi,” allowed church members to molest children as the Pope, and “wrote a letter instructing every Catholic bishop to keep the sex abuse of minors secret until the statute of limitations ran out” while acting as the head of the CDF.
What Maher was referring to was the fact that Cardinal Ratzinger brought attention to Crimen Sollicitationis, a 1962 Vatican document regarding cases of priests using the sacrament of confession to sexually engage penitents, when he cited it in a 2002 CDF document. Crimen Sollicitationis declared that cases of alleged sexual misconduct in the confessional were to be kept secret.
As John Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter has explained, secrecy regarding cases of priestly sexual abuse has a three-fold purpose, “First, it is designed to allow witnesses and other parties to speak freely, knowing that their responses will be confidential. Second, it allows the accused party to protect his good name until guilt is established. Third, it allows victims to come forward without exposing themselves to publicity.”
Canon law norms of secrecy do not, however, preclude bishops from reporting instances of sexual abuse to police.
“Crimen Sollicitationis dealt with canonical cases against a priest that could lead to removal from ministry or expulsion from the priesthood. Its imposition of secrecy thus concerned the church’s internal disciplinary process. It did not, according to canonical experts, prevent a bishop or anyone else from reporting a crime against a minor to the civil authorities,” wrote Allen Jr.
See previous related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
BBC Takes “Sensational, Misleading” Shot at Pope Benedict
Sign the petition to have Maher fired:
Read the latest Catholic League response: