A report last Sunday in the New York Times filed by Vatican-watcher Rachel Donadio revealed to the world that on Friday evening of Easter week Pope Benedict watched a movie. That's right. Imagine! But wait! There's more! Guess which movie! A film entitled "Under the Roman Sky"! It's a film that portrays Pope Pius XII as a protector of Italy's Jews! Oh, the horror, the horror! But wait, wait, wait! It gets worse! Benedict praised the movie! Yes, he did! He actually called it "useful and stimulating". Well, after that, what need have we of witnesses?
But just in case you might feel the need, the Times will do its best to oblige. As a matter of fact, Johnny-on-the-spot, it does so , right there in that same report! Under an eye-catching caption (spelled out in extra-large, bold black type): "FROM POPE, PRAISE FOR A PREDECESSOR ALSO UNDER SCRUTINY", Ms. Donadio's report weighs in: "The screening ... comes as the Vatican continues to respond to criticism that it did not act SWIFTLY to REMOVE priests who were pedophiles from its ranks."
May I offer a comment . Ms. Donadio seems to be laboring under the assumption that the INITIAL responsibility for "removing" priests accused of pedophiliac acts (or serious sins of any kind) rests with the Vatican. Given that assumption, a false assumption, it would follow that any delay in removing from access to potential victims a priest accused credibly of sexual abuse would constitute dereliction of duty on the part of the Vatican, and in particular on the part of Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, who, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, possessed ultimate jurisdiction prior to 2001 over cases involving profanation of the Sacrament of Confession, and from 2001 forward, at the command of Pope John Paul, ultimate jurisdiction over cases involving clerical sexual abuse of any kind.
Ms. Donadio, there's a problem here. Under canon law the responsibility for suspending predatory priests from the public exercise of ministry, or at the very least for removing them from assignments providing access to victims, rests in the FIRST instance NOT with "the Vatican " but WITH THE LOCAL BISHOP.
What the Times is doing here-and has consistently been doing- is to assign to the higher authority the guilt for negligence on the part of the lower. Thus guilt for the negligence shown by LOCAL bishops as in the Milwaukee case is imputed to the Vatican. Such a transfer of guilt is helpful to those who are eager to impair the credibility of the Church by damaging or even destroying the credibility of Pope Benedict.
Standing in the way of such transfer of guilt from a lower authority to one that is higher is the fact that under the norms that govern the Catholic Church, a.ka. canon law, in addressing the evil of "criminous clerks" (to use a once famous phrase from the history of England), the proper modus agenda unfolds in a sequence of TWO quite distinct and contrasting procedures.
Procedure number one callsfor judgment by the LOCAL bishop, issuing IDEALLY in SWIFT remedial action, that is to say in IMMEDIATE separation of the credibly accused from his putative victims, pending further investigation. This separation can be of indeterminate length.
Procedure number TWO is a SLOWER and much more PAINSTAKING procedure, involving careful investigation of the charges with an eye to fairness and the pursuit of the truth and frequently requiring an ecclesiastical trial conducted under strict rules, a trial that can result in laicization if the accused is found guilty. Laicization is the reduction of a priest to the status of a layman inasmuch as, without prejudice to the character indelibly imprinted on his soul at the moment of ordination, he is solemnly forbidden for the rest of his life to discharge priestly functions in public or even in private, except for that rare emergency when the salvation of an immortal soul is at stake.
For procedure number ONE "the ball is in the court" of the LOCAL BISHOP. He has the initial responsibility to investigate and to act. For procedure number TWO the VATICAN takes over the command---and the responsibility. Speed is the desirable characteristic of procedure number one. But in procedure number two, so that justice may be served, careful concern for the rights of all (including the accused) trumps the need for speed.
Thus to criticize THE VATICAN for failing "to act SWIFTLY to REMOVE priests who were pedophiles from its ranks" is to ignore the contrasting characteristics of procedure number one and the subsequent procedure. In his presiding over procedure number two Cardinal Ratzinger followed the dictates of a sound conscience in refusing to endorse a "rush to judgment." At that stage of the proceedings a cautious and careful concern for justice even to the prejudice of speed was what his duty required.
But even a columnist for the New York Times can give evidence of possessing a conscience. Such a colunniist is Ron Douthat, together with David Brooks one of the two professedly conservative columnists allowed space in that paper. Mr. Douthat has come on the editorial page of the Times to Pope Benedict's defense.
May I offer for your reading, in defense of a viciously maligned Pope Benedict, no less than three recent and very important articles that appeared in the secular press: First Ross Douthat's column from the Times; then an essay from Newsweek by George Weigel; and finally a report from Stacy Meichtry in the Wall Street Journal.
* * * * *Why Benedict Deserves Sympathy
By: Ross Douthat from New York Times, April 12, 2010
The world didn't always agree with Pope John Paul II, but it always seemed to love him. Handsome and charismatic, with an actor's flair and a statesman's confidence, he transformed the papacy ftom an Italian anachronism into a globetrotting phenomenon. His authority stabilized a reeling Church; his personal holiness inspired a generation of young Catholics. "Santo subito!" the Roman crowds chanted as he lay dying. Sainthood now!
They will not chant for Benedict XVI. The former Joseph Ratzinger was always going to be a harder pontiff for the world to love: more introverted than his predecessor, less political and peripatetic.... While the last pope held court with presidents and rock stars, Cardinal Ratzinger was minding the store in Rome, jousting with liberal theologians. and being caricatured as "God's Rottweiler." His reward was supposed to be retirement, and a return to scholarly pursuits. Instead he was summoned to Peter's chair....
The drip, drip, drip of sex abuse cases from Benedict's past started a month ago with a serious incident: a pedophile priest who was returned to ministry in Munich by then-Archbishop Ratzinger's subordinates, and perhaps with his knowledge. [This is the incident upon which I offered my own opinion last week, namely that] [Faulty communication between bureaucrats is the likeliest explanation].
The more recent smoking guns, though, offer more smoke than fire. The pope is now being criticized not for enabling crimes or covering them up, but because in the 1980s and 1990s the Vatican's bureaucracy moved SLOWLY on requests to formally LAICIZE abusive priests....
But there's another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.
The Church's dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul's friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degoliado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter's Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel's Vatican success : He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul's inner circle.
Only one churchman comes out of Berry's story looking good.- Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money "for his charitable use." The cardinal "was tough as nails in a very cordial way" a witness said, and turned the money down.
This isn't an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia....It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to CENTRALIZE the Church's HAPHAZARD system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel's conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaires in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.
So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid-the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, [which had been underway since the late 1960's, years before John Paul's election in 1978], or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the Church's bishops, where Benedict's appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn't a coincidence that some of the most forthright ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the CURRENT pope....
* * * * *What Went Wrong?
By: George Weigel
From: Newsweek, April 12, 2009
Throughout what U.S. Catholics called the "Long Lent" of 2002, when every week seemed to bring revelations of clerical sexual abuse and its mishandling by the Church's bishops, some observers suggested that this crisis was the byproduct of some distinctive features of Catholic life: a celibate priesthood, a Church governed by male bishops, a demanding sexual ethic. "MODERNIZE" the church by CHANGING all that, they argued, and these horrible problems would abate, even disappear.
Sexual abuse is indeed horrible, but there is no empirical evidence that it is a uniquely, predominantly, or even strikingly Catholic problem. The sexual abuse of the young is a global plague. In the United States, some 40 to 60 percent of such abuse takes place with in families--often at the hands of live-in boyfriends or the second (or third, or fourth) husband of a child's mother; those cases have nothing to do with celibacy. The case of a married Wilmington, Delaware, pediatrician charged with 471 counts of sexual abuse in February has nothing to do with celibacy. Neither did the 290,000 cases of sexual abuse in American public schools between 1991 and 2000, estimated by Charol Shakeshaft of Virginia Commonwealth University. And given the significant denominations with married clergy, it's hard to accept the notion that marriage is somehow a barrier against sexually abusive clergy. [Instances of such abuse perpetrated by non-Catholic clergy are largely ignored by the media]. (Indeed, the idea of reducing marriage to an abuse-prevention program ought to be repulsive.) Sexual abusers throughout the world are overwhelmingly noncelibates.
Too many of the Church's bishops failed to grasp the drastic measures required to address the sexual abuse of the young-that's obvious, and has been admitted by the bishops of the United States and two popes. Yet it is hard to see what these failures had to do with gender. Like others, many bishops had a misplaced faith in the power of psychiatrists and psychologists to "fix" sexual predators, thinking these men could be "cured" and quietly returned to ministry without damaging the Church's reputation. In his recent scathing letter to the Catholic Church in Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI denounced bishops who were more concerned with protecting the Church's image than with protecting vulnerable young people. It's a critique that was applicable decades ago in the United States-but the same criticism can be made of teachers-union leaders and state legislators of today who ignore or try to bury reports of sexual abuse in America's public schools.
So, yes, aspects of clerical culture in the U.S. and elsewhere contributed to the problem, but that same deplorable circle-the-wagons instinct has warped the response to this plague in other sectors of society. The difference is that the Catholic Church in America has taken more rigorous action since 2002 to protect the young people in its care than any other similarly situated institution, to the point where the Church is likely America's safest environment for young people....
It should also be noted that the U.S. Church's handling of abuse and misgovernance since 2002 has been immensely strengthened by the insight and professional expertise of many women-just as we also ought to recognize that laywomen, single and married, are usually the teachers who make today's Catholic schools safe and successful. Moreover, women are the great majority of the volunteers and paid staff who make Catholic parishes both safe and vital. The notion that women don't have anything to do with how the Catholic Church operates confuses the Catholic Church with the higher altitudes of "the Vatican," and ignores how Catholic life is actually lived in America and Europe.
As for doctrine: what ought to be obvious about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is that these grave sins and crimes were acts of infidelity, DENIALS of the truths the church leaches. A priest who takes SERIOUSLY the vows of his ordination is NOT a sexual abuser or predator. And if a bishop takes seriously his ordination oath to shepherd the Lord's flock, he will always put the safety of the Master's little ones AHEAD of concerns about public scandal. Catholic LITE is not the answer to what has essentially been a crisis of FIDELITY
Since 2002, with strong support from then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (and from him still as Benedict XVI), the Catholic Church in America has developed and enforced policies and procedures to ensure the safety of the young that offer an important model for the world church. There were only six credible reports of sexual abuse of the young in the U.S. Church last year. And while that is six too many in a Church that ought to hold itself to the highest standards, it is nonetheless remarkable in a community of 68 million people.
What is essential throughout the world, however, is that the Church become MORE Catholic, NOT less. John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" proposed an understanding of faithful and fruitful human love as an icon of God's inner life. That vision is far nobler, far more compelling, and far more humane than the sex-as-contact-sport teching of the sexual revolution, the principal victims of which seem to be vulnerable young people. Those who are genuinely committed to the protection of the young might ponder whether Catholicism really needs to become Catholic Lite-or whether the Augean stables of present-day CULTURE need a radical cleansing.
* * * * *
Church Faces Hurdles to Imposing Abuse Law
By: Stacy Melchtry
From: The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, April 10, 2010
Pope Benedict XVI is under pressure to find a quick and effective way to impose church law concerning sexual abuse across Roman Catholic dioceses around the world, where he will have to face LOCAL bishops who hold sway over how abusive priests are reported, investigated, and prosecuted.
Some canon lawyers say the pope has all of the formal power he needs, partly thanks to tougher laws HE helped to create in 2001 when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Still, the Vatican faces numerous challenges in ADMINISTERING canon law. In addition to the semiautonomous dioceses, there are also debates over jurisdiction inside the Church, confusing divisions of authority, and widely varying civil codes dealing with requirements for reporting suspected abuse.
On Friday, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi in an address over Vatican Radio, also told church officials to cooperate with civil authorities "keeping in mind the specific norms and situations of different countries." Canon law, he said, had to be applied with "decisiveness and veracity."
The Vatican is expected to publish STREAMLINED church guidelines for handling sexual-abuse cases on its Web site Monday, [April 12] said Jeffrey Lena, a lawyerfor the Holy See. [This has now been done.] One problem the Catholic Church has had in responding to abuse cases is the determination of who has jurisdiction: the Holy See in Rome OR local bishops. As hundreds of sexual-abuse allegations have emerged across Europe this year, critics have noted the glacial pace of Church trials and INTERPRETED it as a SIGN of the Vatican's UNWILLINGNESS to crack down on sexual abuse.
Further confusion [stems from] the church hierarchy of authority. The pope has the power to hand down directives on church law, but bishops from Idaho to India have a lot of say in whether Vatican orders are carried out.
"People see the pope as a monolith; he gives an order and everyone falls in line. But practically, that doesn't happen," said Nicholas Cafardi, a professor of canon law at Duquesne University, who advised U. S. bishops on implementing national norms on sexual abuse following the explosion of U. S. cases in 2002. "There are tons of examples of bishops ignoring the Holy See."
Those examples include administrative matters, such as selling property or managing personnel. Although bishops continue to have "enormous power,"the NEW LAW has CLARIFIED the Holy See's authority to reach down into a diocese in cases of sexual abuse, said Monica-Elena Herghelegiu, a canon lawyer and senior lecturer at Germany's University of Tuebingen, where Pope Benedict once taught theology. "The supreme pontiff and his representatives have the power to intervene in the dioceses whenever necessary."
BEFORE the current law, ANY NUMBER of departments in the Holy See could stake claims to sexual-abuse cases. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for example, had clearcut jurisdiction only over priests who used their roles as confessors to solicit sexual acts from their victims. Other forms of sexual abuse by priests were often handled by other Vatican bodies, such as the Congregation for the Clergy. That also caused months of delay, as local bishops reported the cases to the wrong office, according to internal church documents disclosed by lawyers of alleged victims.
Controversy over who is ultimately responsible for disciplining priests bubbled up again on Friday when the Associated Press reported that a 1985 letter by then-Cardinal Ratzinger to the Oakland, California diocese showed the future pope resisting defrocking [i.e., laicising] an Oakland priest who had a record of sexually molesting children. In the letter, written in Latin, the cardinal cites concerns over "the good of the universal church," the AP quotes. the letter as stating.
Mr. Lena, the attorney for the Holy See, couldn't confirm directly the authenticity of the 1985 letter, but said it appeared to be a form letter typically sent out in cases involving "laicization," or defrocking. He denied the letter reflected then-Cardinal Ratzinger resisting pleas from the bishop to defrock the priest. "There may be some overstep and rush to judgment going on here," he said.
In the late 1990s, Cardinal Ratzinger began to push for an OVERIHAUL OF RULES on sexual abuse said Father Lombardi. The effort actually led to further delays in disciplining abusive priests. Cases that were pending before the Congregation were SUSPENDED for years WHILE Cardinal Ratzinger RETOOLED THE NORMS, the spokesman said.
Cardinal Ratzinger issued a letter to bishops, giving them instructions on how to apply the NEW rules. Those rules dictate that bishops are required to report SWIFTLY any allegations of sexual abuse that have "a semblance of truth" to the Congregation. The office can then instruct a local diocese to conduct a canonical trial against the cleric. Under 'particular circumstances" the Congregation can take over a case and conduct its own trial.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also was given FULL jurisdiction over appeals [in 2001]. If a diocese appears to fumble a canonical trial, the Congregation's so-called Promoter of Justice can appeal the local tribunal's ruling. The Congregation can dispense with the canonical trial and refer cases directly to the pope, when abuse cases are deemed "grave and clear."
Despite the overhaul, however, the Vatican stills struggles to impose its authority.
Fr. George Welzbecher, Church of St. John of St. Paul, Pastor's Page, April 18, 2010