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Inventing news where there is none is not a new pastime for the press, but the intense interest that the European media has shown in the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, the elder brother of Pope Benedict XVI, goes beyond the usual range of invidious gossip. The 86-year-old Monsignor Ratzinger, the retired conductor of the Regensburg Cathedral’s famous boys’ choir, assumed his post a decade after a sexual abuse scandal surfaced. The offenders were punished and the matter was put to rest. Earlier this week reporters cornered the retired priest and demanded to know whether he would testify about the sex scandal in his choir. Ratzinger replied that he would be happy to testify if asked, but as the events preceded his tenure he had no knowledge of the facts—and headlines appeared in major German media that “the pope’s brother is ready to testify about sex abuse.”

Reporters then dug up thirty-year-old reports of corporal punishments at church schools attended by choristers for the Regensburger Domspaetzen, Msgr. Ratzinger’s choir. Today’s headlines announce with a shocked tone that Ratzinger several decades ago occasionally boxed the ears of misbehaving pupils.  AP for example reports today:

There have also been reports of severe beatings by administrators at two primary feeder schools for the choir, one in Etterzhausen and one in Peilenhofen. One director, identified as Johann M., who headed the Etterzhausen school from 1953-1992, has been cited in several allegations as being particularly abusive.

Ratzinger said boys would open up to him about being mistreated in Etterzhausen.

“But I did not have the feeling at the time that I should do something about it. Had I known with what exaggerated fierceness he was acting, I would have said something,” he was quoted as saying by the German paper.

“Of course, today one condemns such actions,” Ratzinger said. “I do as well. At the same time, I ask the victims for pardon.”

There is nothing particularly scandalous about any of this, but it provides a pretext for the press to associate the innocuous actions of the pope’s brother with serious offenses elsewhere. The same AP report, for example, states: “The scandal sweeping church institutions in many European countries kept widening Tuesday . . . . Last week, the Regensburg Diocese said a former singer at the choir had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse in the early 1960s. And across Germany, more than 170 students have claimed they were sexually abused at several Catholic high schools. In Austria, the head of a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg admitted to sexually abusing a child decades ago and resigned. Dutch Catholic bishops announced an independent inquiry into more than 200 allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests at church schools and apologized to victims.”

The stories appear written to lead the inattentive reader to associate a boxed ear from Msgr. Ratzinger with serious offenses elsewhere.

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