The Road from Regensburg
FAITH Magazine May-June 2010
Papal-inspired dialogue in search of a new apologetic
Any case of priestly sex abuse and episcopal cover-up is especially shameful - priests are meant to reflect God the Father. We accept the role of the media in calling us to account concerning our protection and care of innocent children and their families, not least those who have been deeply wounded by those who they naturally would expect to trust the most. This has rightly involved reporting the failures of Bishops to follow wise Church, civil and common law. Furthermore we understand that a failure to be transparent concerning our administrative procedures can foster suspicion. We need repentance and renewal.
An Inconvenient Papal Diagnosis?
When a journalist of the stature of Libby Purves calls for the Pope's arrest, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation publish a piece suggesting the Pope is akin to a "criminal mastermind" who should be treated like the Taliban we are at a significant juncture of human history. Yet the only new as well as significant information in the recent spate of priestly abuse "reports" was the revelation, horrific as it is, that the actions of some Irish prelates enabled serious child abusers to continue their crimes.
As we argue below the move that has been made from the fact of these actions, contrary to Church law and teaching as they were, to the blackening of the name of the Catholic Church is profoundly unjust. The move from a journalism with normally quite high professional standards to a sustained irrational rage is strange as well as damaging to all, not least the victims. It is made somewhat more understandable by the awful nature of priestly abuse, and by the fact that the same apparently objective journalists, as well as fostering some Christian values, have helped to make respectable the culture of death. It is interesting that Libby Purves' autobiography, 'Holy Smoke', somewhat implausibly linked her own personal lack of obedience to Humanae Vitae with the plight of Irish women with drunken husbands.
The mantra of "tolerance" in this brave new world is increasingly seen to be on shaky ground by its intolerance of direct challenges, for instance by the proponents of religious freedom.
The Pope has so challenged the very heart of European secularism. He has drawn out the contradictions of playing off one Christian value against another and pleaded for a "new humanistic synthesis" in European culture. Last autumn he said as much in separate addresses to EU and UN leaders. These addresses were highlighted in this column, as have been his numerous supporting talks since his 2006 Regensburg lecture.
The BBC expressed surprise that the Pope's Urbi et Orbi address did not mention the abuse crisis. It did mention the "profound crisis" of the modern world. In the Pope's moving and thought provoking "Letter of Apology" to the Irish Church, issued shortly before the calls for his arrest, he mentions the fatal "tendency during this period to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel." [n.54]. We would repeat the point made in our editorial introduction that, contrary to some critics of the Pope's letter, this is not to shift the blame elsewhere, for he recognises that Catholic thought has failed to provide the antidote to this. Indeed in para.12 he says, "A new vision is needed to inspire future and present generations to treasure the gift of our faith."
In the final analysis, given that the pen is mightier than the sword, these utterances are the actions, that the masters of our new universe really should fear. Might they have been a catalyst for the recent media cataclysm?
The Nature of the Media Attack
There is one reason we would not put on the list of causes for the assault upon the Pope. That is that the media have uncovered a papal led conspiracy, which flows from the nature of Catholicism, to prioritise the good name of the Church over the protection of innocent children.
The media have avoided presenting the fact that child sex abuse and the mismanagement of its perpetrators is and has been a society-wide phenomenon. Rather they have been happy to suggest, - more often by subtle implication and spin than with straightforward candour - that (i) the priesthood is fairly riddled with abusers, (ii) there is an international culture of cover-up in the Church which (iii) goes right to the top of the Church, and (iv) that Catholic institutions such as celibacy and hierarchy are to blame — even that Catholic teaching of children about its sexual morality is a form of intellectual abuse of large numbers of children.
Contextualising the Media Attack
We would suggest that these latter four implications amount to ideologically-inspired calumny. If we are right then this is utterly reprehensible. It is making mileage out of the misery of those wounded by the abuse crisis.
(i) Among those convicted for child abuse in the United States and in Austria priests number 2%. The family and related authority figures are the biggest percentage group of abusers. In England and Wales over the last 40 years 0.4% of all priests have had allegations of such abuse against them. In the first national research of its kind the Irish college of Surgeons 2002 SAVI report, widely acknowledged as authoritative, found that the gigantic number of 27% of Irish under-17 year olds allege having been victims of sex abuse. 3.4 % of these allegations concerned priests or religious, the majority being by the latter in, it seems, their boys' schools.
The report of the Irish government's inquiry into the place where a significant majority of clerical abuse took place, the educational reform schools from 1914-1999, was the catalyst for this whole crisis. It made a strong, public invitation for victims to come forward. The report records 381 allegations, of which 225 were against religious workers, including priests. This is a tiny fraction of the one quarter of Irish people who reported, in 2002, having been abused over a similar period. It gives an extra degree of specification to the picture.
By far the biggest decade for the correction schools' allegations was the 1960s. In US cases, 60% of which involved post-pubescent boys, 40% of allegations against clergy were in the yearsl975-1980. Since then, in both these countries, there has been a consistent drop off.
(ii) Statistically speaking in all the recent reporting there are no new allegations. There is a greater, certainly horrific, specificity to what probably happened - there are no new convictions or admissions of abuse. The main news is of some tragically awful management, even protection, of some proven or suspected abusers. This has been made gigantic news, by the Anglophone media, as if we have been and still are the main institution to have such problems. It has not been helped by slow and uncoordinated Church responses. Then on top of this have been added vicious allegations against the Pope, hyped up before the Church has had a chance to respond. The German media for instance has been a lot more responsible.
There is no question that as weakness and sin in some of our leaders come to light we need to respond, as we have over the last decade. In Ireland since 1995 all cases have been reported to authorities. Since the department of which Cardinal Ratzinger was head for two decades was given responsibility for these cases in 2001 he has acted vigorously. The Church in England and Wales through its implementation of the Nolan report over the last decade is known to be well ahead of all other institutions involving care of children in this whole area.
The evidence suggests that terrible mismanagement is widespread in society today. For instance a US Education department report concerning American public schools shows large scale contemporary abuse, with little action being taken against admitted offenders. The media seem to be averting their gaze from the society-wide, contemporary problem in favour of the small minority of historic Catholic cases.
The Church's Canon Law has always made clear that abuse of minors is a serious sin. It stipulates penalties which, as the government report brought out, some Irish Bishops ignored with terrible consequences.
However, outside the Church, it has not always been clear in our culture that adult sex with minors is wrong, and this belief is under threat again. Prominent contemporary political figures such as Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt were leaders of the 1970s Civil Liberties Union which was affiliated to the Paedophile Information Exchange, which campaigned to reduce the age of consent to four years old! Furthermore Peter Tatchell was last year given pulpits by the BBC and The Guardian to make his case that there should be no fixed age of consent. It is worth noting again that the tragic victims in a significant proportion of all the abuse cases we are talking about were teenage boys - 60% in the US.
But perhaps more relevantly it has definitely not always been clear that paedophilia is usually a deep psychological wound that repentance and/or therapy cannot easily remove.
(iii) Ironically the US and German cases evinced against the Pope concerning abuses back in the 70s and 80s (as with the much more recent Ealing headmaster case used very prominently against Archbishop Nichols) show the Church being decades ahead of the game as they had all involved full and appropriate cooperation with civil authorities. The two US cases involved the Pope's department respectively in the 80s and 90s when its relevant responsibility concerned confessional misuse and priestly laicisation. Concerning laicisation Pope John Paul II made the process more stringent for the good of the Church, the priest and indeed any victims of the priest.
In the 1970s case of the German priest the only evidence produced which directly involves Archbishop Ratzinger shows that he allowed the suspected priest to come into his diocese for therapy and to stay briefly at a presbytery, but without pastoral work. Following the priest's professional assessment he was later allowed to do such work. After Ratzinger had left the diocese, tragically he abused again. But it looks very much as if the Archbishop did not even know about his reassignment. The accusation against Archbishop Nichols suggested that his heading up the Catholic agency co-ordinating child protection procedures made him responsible for the handling of all English and Welsh paedophile priests. In fact he did not even have to know about every case outside his diocese and the Archbishop has been considering legal action against The Times.
Meanwhile the significant work of the Pope in making the Catholic Church one of the safest institutions for children to be involved in is ignored.
The attempts to implicate the Pope and Archbishop Nichols have shown the media at its most blatantly unprofessional and irresponsible, and suggest a deeper agenda at work. The calls to have the Pope arrested are the product of a false ideology and such journalism, as well as being irresponsible in terms of public order and impossible under British and international law.
(iv) No objective evidence has been adduced to suggest that celibacy is the problem. The implication is therefore calumnious too all who are not having sex! The linking of the cover-up with the institution ignores the fact that the mishandling explicitly ignored Church law. The claims that our teaching of the truth about sex and love is an "intellectual abuse" are in one sense the extreme of the attacks. From another point of view they would seem to be a key motivation behind the unprofessional nature of the frenzied accusations, amidst what, in its foundations at least, was reasonable reporting about real Church failures.
Over the page we give a detailed exposition of a prominent case used against Pope Benedict.
The Fr Lawrence Murphy Case The Accusation as per The Tablet
Let us take then a representative instance of the relentless, largely Anglophone, media attacks upon the Pope.
It concerns the case of the terrible and tragic abuse, by a Milwaukee priest Lawrence Murphy of many 14-15 year old deaf boys (and at least one 12 year old) over many years whilst they were away from the protection of their parents. This was recently brought up by The New York Times, without checking its facts with numerous of the key players. In this regard and concerning the role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) it is quite similar to the other US case brought against the Pope in early April, concerning Fr Kiesle, which was "broken" by Associated Press.
In an action that seems very ahead of its time for any institution, the case was reported to the civil authorities in 1973 though these did not bring it to court. It was referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1996, not because of the paedophilia involved which was not the CDF's responsibility but because of its role in overseeing the legality of processes involving abuse of the confessional seal and laicisation.
Margaret Kennedy in The Tablet neatly recapitulates the seemingly coordinated media barrage in stating that "Pope Benedict [...] as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, allowed Murphy to remain a priest towards the end of his life". ["Voice to the Victims", April 3rd]. After chronicling what certainly sound like some deeply disturbing cases of the mishandling of abuse of disabled children in Catholic schools, she asserts that "in all cases, there is evidence that senior religious figures made efforts to silence deaf and disabled people. The evidence appears to reveal that this reached into the heart of the Vatican." The Tablet piece then goes on to make some radical suggestions about reforming the institutional structures of the Church.
Now at this point we should cut Ms Kennedy some slack. She is founder of "Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors" and appears to have done some much needed advocacy for victims of truly terrible crimes. She is at the hard edge of this whole crisis and is giving "voice" to some terrible anguish. As we have said there is no doubt that the Church owes it to the victims and the wider world to try to foster some careful self-examination, restitution and renewal. Surely though all can agree that to do this fruitfully we need to get at the objective facts. And the supposed fact concerning the Pope at the heart of the Vatican, upon which The Tablet's "Voice to the Victims" radical recommendations are based, is manifestly not true.
As shown by the New York Times' own evidence, published for all to see on their website at the beginning of their well planned assault this Easter, the claim concerning what the "Pope [...] allowed" is false on two counts:
1 The alleged evidence of mishandling concerns words of Archbishop Bertone, Ratzinger's "deputy" at the CDF, not Ratzinger himself.
2 The CDF was not asked, required or empowered to make the decisions it is alleged to have done in this case, but just to advise on due process. Bertone's advice explicitly followed what was necessary in order to achieve dismissal from the clerical state which is never an automatic penalty. Canon 1341 states that a Bishop:
"is to take care to initiate a judicial or administrative process to impose or declare penalties only after he has ascertained that fraternal correction or rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude cannot sufficiently repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender."
Certainly ecclesiastical precedent places a greater emphasis upon the latter considerations when the accused is close to death, as Fr Murphy was known to be. In addition Pope John Paul did require the CDF to be much more cautious that his predecessor in cases of laicisation for the good of the Church and society. But it is interesting that at the key May 1998 meeting Bertone, repeating a point made by his deputy, clearly affirmed "dismissal from the clerical state" as a possible end point of the process they were engaged in.
Possible Defences of the Accusation
Factors that have been used to support these two aspects of the much repeated accusation include the following:
1(a) Surely Ratzinger must have approved the process. It may be true but there is no evidence for it.
(b) The buck stopped with Ratzinger. But that is different from making him the subject of an allegedly seriously mistaken action, which thus reveals profound weakness in the Church's very constitution. Following corrections on this point even The Guardian and The Times by early April were acknowledging that and referring to Ratzinger's "deputy".
2(a) The relevant US Bishops argued that it was appropriate to move beyond the preliminary aspects of the process mandated by c. 1341, and had begun trial preparations. For they had learnt of the deeply felt desire of the Milwaukee deaf community that Fr Murphy lose his clerical state.
Bertone did not order the abating of the diocesan trial but highlighted its legal and practical difficulties. He suggested and "hoped" that other penal and penitential measures might achieve justice, "favour the good of souls and avoid scandal" in an expedited way, especially relevant given Fr Murphy's precarious health. It was all primarily a question of the interpretation of Church law. As with all law, flouting it might appear to bring fuller justice more quickly, but usually backfires. In any case Bertone's legal advice clearly did not rule out eventual dismissal. It was very far indeed from being the alleged positive permission for Murphy to remain.
(b) Notes of the May meeting made well after it by Bishop Fliss, of the diocese of Superior, state that the CDF "was not encouraging us to proceed with any formal dismissal on the basis of 24 yrs of apparent good conduct and the precept impeding exercise of orders currently in effect". This is certainly consistent with Bertone's legal advice, but is not equivalent to "stopping" the dismissal process, the very action ruled out by Bertone at the meeting.