Rashomonitoring the church scandals

The slow drip of acid on the Catholic church, and especially on the pope, from the daily revelations of non-feasance, malfeasance, and active coverup is going to go on corroding the machinery, and burning the gilt off the façade, for a long time. We haven’t even started to hear the horror stories screaming to be let out from Latin countries, except the Legion of Christ disaster. It may be a while in coming; the Corriere, for example, saw fit to publish the most fawning, reality-free op-ed today, going on and on about the holiness of Benedict and blaming plaintiffs’lawyers money-grubbing victims, and the common-law system of Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions for everything.

I sense several different ways to understand why the church has been harboring this cancer, all interesting despite the ghastly behavior it forces us to watch.  The first is a theological model, which I sketched in an earlier post: if you’re about the salvation of souls, you’re about sinners rather than victims, and the sinners are your own priests and religious (nuns and monks). The suffering of the victims doesn’t put their souls at risk of damnation and endures only a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things.  After all, this is an outfit that used to torture heretics to death in order to get them to confess or convert and be saved. “Tuez-les tous; Dieu connait les siens!

The next, which I have cribbed from members of an off-the-record listserv  [I’ll link if they post something], is an instinct of institutional preservation, the church hierarchy protecting itself from the civil power by denying the courts access to its own felons, and from the laity by circling the wagons around priests and bishops.
This story has also activated the immune system of feminists and LGBT advocates who read it as one more example of straight men being their worst men selves, and gay men being damaged by an intolerant society. I think there’s something to that. Even if all priests were men, if the bishops and predator-enablers had wives to come home to and talk about stuff at work, it would be harder for them to get so far off the rails. We shouldn’t get too carried away with this story, though: the Irish nuns were quite the vicious abusers of the orphans and “delinquents” delivered to their mercies. I don’t mean name-calling and sarcasm, I mean beating with sticks and clubs.

Then there’s a management story, which comes from today’s NYT:  Ratzinger just didn’t do his job in Munich. He’s obviously a judgmental, punitive, rigid ideologue at heart, and a bully, but he’s also a luftmensch, lost in abstraction and theory, who would rather win an argument than learn something, and he gets his rocks off nailing people for doctrinal mistakes rather than actually doing anything or attending to stuff that’s happening on the ground. When he had an archdiocese to run, which sort of goes with the position of archbishop, he just didn’t do it.

I think Ratzinger is toast, though unfortunately maybe not soon. The question is whether this enormous hierarchical bureaucracy, besotted with the myth and illusion of its own holiness, can shake itself awake.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

42 thoughts on “Rashomonitoring the church scandals”

  1. Ratzinger is, sadly, not within miles of being toast. He is not only the unquestionable leader of his cult, he is also absolute monarch for life of a sovereign country. Nobody can arrest him or force him to resign, and it is inconceivable he would have the human decency to resign on his own iniative and turn himself over to law enforcement officials.

    There is no hope that his institution will reform itself or change in any meaningful way. Its sole and invariable response to revelations of its priests's sexual predations is denial as long as possible, then damage control. The hope, rather, is that sufficient numbers of the church's adherents who have till now given it their allegiance for reasons of sentiment, cultural identity or family tradition will come to understand that continued membership means they condone their priests' conspiracy and abandon it. The Best we can hope for is that the church's political power and wealth are minimised, and that only the truly contemptible, superstitious sheep remain in the flock.

  2. The Catholic Church will try to do what it always has done in these circumstances: stall until things blow over. That prediction has nothing to do with cynicism, there are three conspiring reasons which lead to the inescapable conclusion that in its current state the Catholic Church is institutionally incapable of another response.

    1. The current leadership is tainted. It has been involved in cover-ups for decades and therefore would have to fess-up to it's own failings.

    2. The Catholic Church is too hierarchical to allow anybody but the leadership in the Vatican to deal with the problem from within.

    3. The Catholic church has fought long and hard over ecclesiastical versus secular supremacy, it has fought long and hard against the separation of church and state, its leadership still has an instinctive animus against secular authority, which, after all, is only from humans, whereas that of the church is from God. The deep-seated need of of the Catholic hierarchy for institutional preservation vis-à-vis the secular state makes it essentially inconceivable that the hierarchy will fully cooperate with the rightful government agencies to clear out the Augean stable.

    So what is left? A full-blown rebellion by the catholic laity might be able to force the hands of the Catholic hierarchy, but even that isn't for sure. And as there anyway is no sign of such a rebellion, my prediction is that the Vatican will do what it has always done in these situations: try to muddle through.

  3. What puzzles me is, how did Ratzinger get to be Pope in the first place? He's uncharismatic. He had a peculiar life and career history. He doesn't even look like a pope (more an elevated bureaucrat).

    Why didn't they pick some warm-hearted Italian guy to be Pope in 2005? I understand that John Paul II was conservative and that shaped Vatican politics a lot, but the Ratzinger pick still amazes.

  4. @ Quiddity: JP II had a long tenure and when he died very few in the college of cardinals electing the new pope had not been appointed by him. Ratzinger, as the right-hand man of JP II, had made sure that these cardinals were of the right school of thought and especially that they were not sympathizers of liberation theology.

  5. The NY Times published two op-ed pieces on the recent news concerning the Church today. The first was a shallow, insipid piece of gossipy trash filled with factual inaccuracies. In other words, it was written by Maureen Dowd:


    The second was actually a sober reflection on the situation by John Allen, who, unlike Ms. Down (And the Times' Laurie Goodstein, who authored the disasterous piece a few days ago on the Wisconsin case) actually knows what the Hell he's talking about, having spent the better part of his career covering Vatican news for the (decidedly liberal) National Catholic Reporter.


    Unsurprisingly, Dowd's piece paints Benedict as a horrific human being, wheras Allen, who, we are reminded, actually knows what the Hell he's talking about, paints Benedict as a man who probably made some mistakes in his career but since 2001 when his office at the Vatican started to receive reports of every sexual abuse case worldwide has done more to change the culture and practice of the Church for the better than anyone else. But hey, when you have an axe to grind, why bother with pesky facts.

  6. sd,

    Even Allen concedes that little or nothing has been done about the bishops who concealed and enabled the abuse.

  7. Quiddity says:

    "What puzzles me is, how did Ratzinger get to be Pope in the first place? He’s uncharismatic. He had a peculiar life and career history. He doesn’t even look like a pope (more an elevated bureaucrat)."

    Among many, many other things, Ratzinger was in charge of the cover-up. He had files from just about everywhere moved to the Vatican, so that local law enforcement couldn't get them. Imagine what was in those files……………

  8. Barry,

    [zap] If you have documentary evidence that anyone (including the current Pope) "had files from just about everywhere moved to the Vatican, so that local law enforcement couldn't get them" then please, by all means, provide that evidence.

    I won't be holding my breath [zap].

  9. Bernard,

    You are correct. As I noted, Allen writes for one of the most prominent (if not the most prominent) liberal Catholic periodicals in the U.S. He's no unabashed cheerleader for the Vatican generally or the current Pope specifically. But he is a remarkably fair and even-tempered commentator, and has earned respect from all quarters in his field. So yes, he does note that Benedict's acts are not without controversy, and that legitimate criticisms can be made of them.

    But just because legitimate criticisms can be made of a person doesn't mean that its fair game to throw [zap] to see what sticks. For example, the earlier NYT piece linking Benedict to the Wisconsin sexual abuse case was one of the most shoddy pieces of journalism I've ever read in a major paper. It was jaw-droppingly unprofessional. But in the current climate, that kind of anti-Catholic hack journalism wins tons of raves from the peanut gallery that can't be bothered to educate themselves about their enthusiams.

  10. Maybe the Pope blackmailed all of the voting Cardinals who were pedaphiliacs and those who covered up for them. so he bacame pope to keep the lid on the scandal. and has run it the way j.edgar hoover ran the fbi, through "closet management".

  11. sd,

    You are making things up [zap]. John Allen says nothing about the Wisconsin priest in his op-ed. There is no reasonable explanation for the halting of an clerical trial in that case except it was quashed directly from Benedict's office for fear of exposure. There was no administrative alternative that needed to happen more swiftly.

  12. You believed that Times article about Ratzinger being too intellectual to run an archdiocese? I thought it was horsesh*t, myself. This guy is a pure politician, I doubt anything of importance escaped him. This "he was out of touch and didn't know" business is the only defense they can come up with.

  13. I don't want to zap these comments, which have some interesting material in them. But I'm serious about the "play nice" rules. No bad words (they get the site filtered out) and no direct insults to other commenters or to posters. "Liar" is an insult. I'm going to do a little bit of redaction this time. Repeat violations will lead to bans.

  14. I agree with SD. As our Holy Father himself puts it (and he is, need I remind you, Christ's infallible vicar on earth, safeguard of our faith and morals, holder of the keys that loose and bind on earth as in heaven), criticism of priestly child rape is just so much petty gossip and, besides, other people do it too.

    So the only possible explanation for the unfair, unseemly and uncalled-for attacks on the church is anti-catholic bigotry. In fact, you're anti-catholic if you even mention the church's massive cover-up of its priests' crimes against children! Best to draw a veil of decent silence over these unfortunate but extremely rare incidents; God, and the men to whom He has entrusted the earthly administration of His church, will take wise and proper measures to deal with the situation, just as they have always done.

  15. So far, SD, I can't find the 'ordered files transferred to the Vatican'. But I have found additional articles discussing Ratzinger's 2001 letter ordering total secrecy, whic he had no legal right to order:


    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/arti… ("While a cardinal at the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger, now the pope, wrote a 2001 letter instructing bishops worldwide to report all cases of abuse to his office and keep church investigations secret under threat of excommunication. The Vatican insists the secrecy rules serve only to protect the integrity of the church's investigations, and should not be taken to mean the church should not tell police of their members' crimes. ").

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/24/child… ("The order was made in a confidential letter, obtained by The Observer, which was sent to every Catholic bishop in May 2001.

    It asserted the church's right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood. The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected as John Paul II's successor last week." and "It orders that 'preliminary investigations' into any claims of abuse should be sent to Ratzinger's office, which has the option of referring them back to private tribunals in which the 'functions of judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative can validly be performed for these cases only by priests'.

    'Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret,' Ratzinger's letter concludes. Breaching the pontifical secret at any time while the 10-year jurisdiction order is operating carries penalties, including the threat of excommunication. ").

  16. I have to take issue with the "if they had wives to come home to" line. This is a patriarchy we're talking about, and a religion where divorce is essentially nonexistent. It's not about the sex, it's about the power relations. (Of course, if it weren't for celibacy you'd have an entirely different set of people attracted to the priesthood, but then the religion in question would look nothing at all like catholicism as currently constituted, since celibacy has been crucial to the church's political and economic history…)

  17. Barry,

    Let's unpack this. You asserted that "He had files from just about everywhere moved to the Vatican, so that local law enforcement couldn’t get them." I suggested that this was false.

    You have not been able to find evidence "so far" that anyone "ordered files transferred to the Vatican" and I'm confident that you won't. Because that never happened. So that's that.

    Now on to the items you link to. In 2001, the CDF (The Vatican office that then Cardinal Ratzinger led) issued a directive to all local Bishops asserting jurisdiction over all cases of sexual abuse of minors (among other crimes). This was done primarily to make sure that allegations would be treated with seriousness, which unfortunately some local Bishops had failed to do historically. The CDF would then retain jursidiction in some cases, and send jurisdiction back to the diocese in other cases, depending on the circumstances of the case. Indeed, since 2001 the CDF has sent jurisdiction for the vast majority of sexual abuse cases back to the local Church.

    The 2001 document also asserted that such cases be treated with "The Pontifical Secret," meaning that the contents of Church investigations were not to be disclosed. This did not mean that anyone – be they victims or Church officials – was barred from relaying allegations to secular authorities. Let's repeat that – this did not mean that anyone was barred from relaying allegations to secular authorities. Putting these cases under the Pontifical Secret simply meant that the contents of internal inquiries were not to be disclosed. Why? Well why do family courts almost always seal records from cases involving sensitive subjects? Because they're sensitive and public disclosure of the details of the case can harm the innocent – victims and witnesses included. There's nothing nefarious here – its basic legal common sense.

    But maybe you doubt that. Then consider this: The Canadian Bishop's Conference has had a policy on the books since the 1980s that requires any Church official or employee who receive an allegation of sexual abuse to report it immediately to BOTH the secular authorities and Church authorities. The Vatican has never – never – moved to get the Canadian Bishops to change their policy.

    Further, in 2002, the year after the CDF document was issued, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops implemented new policies with regard to allegations of sexual abuse, including the directive: "The diocese/eparchy will comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and will cooperate in their investigation. In every instance, the diocese/eparchy will advise and support a person's right to make a report to public authorities." Again, the Vatican has never – never – moved to get the US Bishops to change their policy.

  18. Like a lot of other comments, Barry is doing a disservice to victims by insisting on debating the "facts" of the matter, what the pope knew, etc. It barely matters anymore. The current pope in his former position, in conjunction with JPII established the framework for how abuse cases were to be handled, and for the most part it did not involve referrals to secular authorities. In some cases, such a referral would have been pointless because of statutes of limitations for the offenses in question. But without any clear guidelines that required the involvement of secular authorities (and in some cases, fairly clear guidelines that bishops should not make such referrals), the popes, current and former, enabled a system that allowed many to escape true punishment for awful crimes, and, from the church's perspective, put many clerics in the position of feeling a sense of duty to compromise the safety and well-being of their members for the good of the church, even when they disagreed and, if left to their own devices, would have reacted very differently.

    The only proper response here is grovelling for forgiveness in the face of such abject moral failure, letting the chips fall where they may. The continuing response of "sympathy and sorrow" is nothing more than a continuation of the same blend of amoral tactical gamesmanship that has let this situation fester and occasionally blow up for the last decade.

  19. anon:

    You said:

    "You are making things up [zap]. John Allen says nothing about the Wisconsin priest in his op-ed. There is no reasonable explanation for the halting of an clerical trial in that case except it was quashed directly from Benedict’s office for fear of exposure. There was no administrative alternative that needed to happen more swiftly."

    I never suggested the John Allen mentioned the Wisconsin case. I simply contrasted the measured, sober, informed nature of Allen's piece with the hysterical, unonformed nature of the Times' reporting on the Wisconsin case, which was indeed terrible, terrible journalism.

    Now on to the merits of the Wisconsin case itself:

    1) The Vatican did not "halt" the clerical trial. Let's repeat, the Vatican did NOT halt the clerical trial. In April 1998 the Vatican suggested that the local Bishop halt the clerical trial, but the decision on halting the clerical trial remained 100% in the hands of the local Bishop. The Vatican's suggestion was made because the accused priest was in frail health and near death, and was accompanied by the suggestion that more expeditied means of removing him permanently from ministry be pursued, means which were also fully in the control of the local bishop. The local Bishop ignored the Vatican's suggestion, and moved forward with the trial. On August 19, 1998 the Archbishop of Milwaukee wrote to the Vatican saying that he had halted the celrical trial. On August 21, 1998 the accused priest died.

    2) "Fear of exposure" You've. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me. The case in question was already extensively covered in the media. There was nothing more to "expose." Setting aside the extremely low odds that the trial would have even happened given the advanced age and failing health of the accused priest, there is simply nothing that would have come up in the case that would have worried anyone at the Vatican that wasn't already in public circulation.

  20. I'm really enjoying watching sd defend his church and its pope.

    One of the very few good things that could possibly come out of the foul miasma that is the Roman Catholic hierarchy's conspiracy to facilitate child rape is the chance that maybe, just maybe, that church's members will come to see they can no longer sit on the fence. They need to decide which side they are on: the side of normal decent people, including their church's underaged victims, or the side of Joseph Ratzinger, Bernard Law, Sean Brady and Bill Donohue. sd appears to have made his choice. Judging by what he has written here, I'm sure he'll be able to persuade himself it was the right one.

  21. Mrs. Tilton: So if a group of people makes charges against the Church or against particular members of the Church that are, in fact, not true, to provide explanation of why those charges are not true is to set oneself up as an enemy of "normal decent people?"


  22. The proper forum for determining whether those charges are true, sd, is a criminal trial before a court of law (not a "court" of your church). If your church and its ruler were genuinely interested in truth and justice, they would open church archives, unredacted and unexpunged, to prosecuting authorities. When your church does so, which I am certain must be just round the corner, I shall be impressed. Until then, I will note that it continues to hew to its ancient tactic: deny until denial is no longer possible, then try to limit the damage until things blow over once again. I'm sure that's the way Jesus would have wanted it. But by all means, go on hand-waving all you like. It's important to be able to see what people choose to defend.

  23. Mrs. Tilton,

    Barry, above, charged that the Vatican had ordered that files on sexual abuse cases be sent to Rome so that they would unavailable to secular authorities. I suppose this would be a proper question for a criminal court if there were any evidence whatsoever that it had happened. But as there is not, its hard to see why its somehow a displacement of proper judicial authority to point that out. If someone in the comments section of a blog says that Roger Federer murdered Barry White in cold blood, and someone else says that that's completely insane because Roger Federer was playing at Wimbeldon the day that Barry White died in Los Angeles, you'd hardly hector that person by saying "that's for a court of law to decide."

    Anon, above suggested that the Vatican had ordered the end to a clerical trial to avoid "exposure," whatever that means. Even if this were true (which it is not), its not a crime. The state has no particular interest one way or another on the question of whether a private group enforces sanctions against one of its members for violations of the group's rules. As to the underlying sexual abuse itself, this obvious is an appropriate area of inquiry for a criminal court. Too bad that the secular authorities in Wisconsin chose not to pursue the matter when it was brought to their attention decades before anyone in the Vatican had ever been informed of a Rev. Paul Murphy from Milwaukee.

  24. sd, give it up. In 2002, when the American "situation" was blowing up, I was still going to weekly mass, and I will never forget hearing the associate pastor, near tears, give a homily based on a passage concerning King David's repudiation by his people for one of his misbegotten adventures, in which one of his minions asks if he should smite the jeering crowd. Said David (in the voice of the pastor): "No, for if they have despised and rejected us, it is because we deserve it."

    You can get down in the weeds and argue the "facts" until you have ceased to be — what was required was that kind of moral clarity, from a member of the hierarchy, preferably the Pope. I haven't heard it yet.

  25. Barbara,

    If you haven't heard it yet, perhaps you haven't been listening. Since 2001 when Cardinal Ratzinger's office in the Vatican began to receive notice of all allegations of abuse woldwide and even more so since 2005 when he became Pope Benedict, he has effected sweeping changes in the way that the Church deals with allegations of sexual abuse.

    In the majority of cases sent to Rome Ratzinger's CDF authorized immediate action against the accused priest, generally permanent removal from ministry. Much is made of the fact that "only 20% of cases referred to Rome resulted in a canonical trial," but that's because in most cases the evidence was deemed clear enough to authorize action against the offender immediately. Further, Ratzinger extended the definition of sexual abuse of a minor in Church policy to include acts committed against anyone under 18 (the previous cutoff had been 16), and acts committed over the internet. The CDF frequently waived statutes of limitations in sexual abuse cases as well.

    Within months of becoming Pope he moved quickly and forcefully to punish Fr. Marciel Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ and Fr. Gino Burresi, founder of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, two immensely powerful Church insiders who also happened to have been the source of tremendous filth. He has met with victims of sexual abuse multiple times. As Pope Benedict has supported numerous national Bishops' conferences in their attempts to toughen up policies on dealing with sexual abuse, and has used his influence (contrary to popular opinion, the Pope does not have "absolute authority" to tell local Bishops what to do) to encourage more national conferences to adopt "one strike" policies similar to those adopted in the US after 2002.

    And make no mistake – the policies adopted in the US after the tidal wave of revelations in the 2001-2002 timeframe have made a huge difference. Last year, for example, 398 alegations against dioscecean priests were made in the U.S., but of these 6 (that's not a typo) involved current minors. The vast majority of the 398 are allegations of decades-old crimes, with the accused in most cases being dead or already removed from ministry. Now let's be clear, every one of those 398 cases is a tradgedy and a crime. But when a single calendar year can produce ~400 allegations total, but of these only 6 are of current minors, its hard to argue with a straight face that the rate of abuse hasn't dropped dramatically.

    And now, despite a remarkably productive record of going after the problem of sexual abuse in the church, Pope Benedict is being accused of being part of the problem. These accusations are mostly unfair and all-too-frequently factually wrong. The New York Times has been especially terrible in this regard in the last few weeks. The paper's story from last week on the notorious Wisconsin case was a case in point. The casual reader, unfamiliar with the facts of how the Church operates, would come away from reading the story convinced that Rembert Weakland, Bishop Emeritus of Milwaukee, bravely fought against a notorious pedophile but was thwarted by Cardinal Ratzinger and his minions. When in fact, a close reading of the story and the supporting documents (which the Times, to be fair, posted on its website) reveals more or less the opposite story. That Bishop Weakland in fact sat on these allegations for nearly 20 years during which time he was empowered by his office to begin the process of a canonical trial against Fr. Murphy with the goal of removing him from the priesthood at any time should he have so chosen. That Bishop Weakland decided to move forward with a trial only when it became clear that he was facing a PR disaster in Milwaukee and possibly a costly lawsuit. That Ratzinger's office informed him that he was empowered to move forward with penalties against Fr. Murphy without a full trial, but otherwise did not intervene in the process at all, save for a suggestion (suggestion) issued 4 months before Fr. Murphy died that perhaps a more expdient means of disciplining the cleric might be in order given the fact that he was about to die.

    P.S. And I'm sorry, but one can't claim that a piece of information is an excellent example of why person X is vile and horrible, and then turn around once the same piece of information is demonstrated to be false and claim that its pointless detail. A lot of folks who don't much like the Pope have been touting the Wisconsin story for the past several days as exhibit A in the case for Benedict's removal from office. If that's even remotely fair then its fair to point out that that case has been reported in a grossly distorted manner.

  26. sd,

    Within months of becoming Pope he moved quickly and forcefully to punish Fr. Marciel Maciel Degollado

    I must apologize, you're right. Now that you mention it, I was terribly impressed to see Ratzinger turn over evidence of Maciel's innumerable rapes of underage boys to prosecuting authorities in Mexico and Italy, thereby ensuring that the vile old hypocrite would end his days in prison. A cynic like me would have thought that Ratzinger would, instead, merely have ordered Maciel to retire and reflect upon what he'd done, but of course that is not what happened at all.

  27. Mrs. Tilton,

    The allegations against Marciel Maciel were all well past the (secular) statute of limitations by the time they reached the Vatican. The original set of allegations were made in 1999 concerning abuse that happened froim the 1940s until the early 1960s. By the time the next wave of allegations rolled in in the ~2003 timeframe Marciel Maciel was 82 years old.

    Turning evidence over to the secular authorities would have resulted in the secular authorities… not doing a thing.

  28. sd, there will always be an excuse, and of course, the Church will seize on every one of them for a reason not to turn priests over to secular authorities. But my real complaint is that the Pope keeps blaming secular society, sexual permissiveness, moral relativism and whatever and whoever else for what is in fact its own institutional failing, like a guy who cheats on his wife who keeps blaming it on the fact that women dress so provocatively, well, what is a man supposed to do? He isn't taking moral responsibility for his and his institution's failure, and there no cultural norm that forced bishops to protect priests. Ergo, he doesn't get as much credit as you suppose he deserves.

  29. So now it is confirmed. sd you are lying. Source documents available here: http://documents.nytimes.com/reverend-lawrence-c-… clearly establish that one of the goals of the CDF was to "avoid scandal". Also, those same source documents clearly show that pressure was coming from the CDF to halt the trial and notes from a Rome meeting show the Wisconsin bishops were told in no uncertain terms to lay off.

  30. anon,

    Um, wrong again.

    I've read the documents in question (several days ago in fact). First of all, in none (none) of the documents originating at the Vatican (March 12 1997, March 24 1997, April 9 1997, April 6 1998, July 13 1998, August 15 1998 (Dioscece of Milwaukee's translation of the attachment to the July 13 1998 correspondence), September 28 1998) is any mention made of the desire to avoid scandal on the part of the CDF as a motivation for any action. The Archbishop of Milwaukee is clearly motivated by the desire to avoid scandal, and the attachment to the July 13, 1998 document makes note of this, but at no time do any Vatican officials suggest in any way that their course of action or the course of action of anyone else be swayed by the desire to avoid scandal.

    On the subject of the CDF providing "pressure" to the Diocese of Milwaukee: The April 6, 1998 document does express the opinion that the Diocese should explore any and all penalties and remedies short of a full canonical trial before moving forward with said trial (as I've clearly aluded to above by noting that Vatican suggested (didn't force – suggested) that the Diocese explore options other than a trial. The reasons for this are clearly stated and completely reasonable. Namely, that because of the nature of the crimes (very old, involving sensitive subjects, and in some cases involving the seal of Confession) it would be difficult to prosocute an effective trial, and because the advanced age and frail health of Fr. Murphy made it unlikely that a trial could be brought to a close before his death. The CDF instead recommeded that the diocese take immediate action to remove Fr. Murphy permanently from ministry, something that it was empowered to do without a full trial. The attachment to the July 13, 1998 document is a set of meeting notes that indicate that the CDF maintained its position and that (apparently) officials from the diocese agreed. It would be hard for the CDF to tell the diocese "in no uncertain terms to lay off" given the fact that the CDF had zero (zero) power to do so. Authority to pursue actions against Fr. Murphy including a canonical trial remained fully in the hands of the Diocese. Critics of the Church often imagine that its some sort of command-and-control organization with absolute authority sitting at the center but canon law reserve a tremendous amount of authority and autonomy to local diocese to run their own affairs.

    Interestingly, The Archdiocese of Milwaukee official in charge of the canonical process against Fr. Murphy has recently posted a statement in The Catholic Anchor, the newspaper of the Diocese of Anchorage, where he is on a temprary assignment:


    Money Quotes:

    On the subject of whether the CDF "halted" the trial against Fr. Murphy:

    "Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer."

    On the "quality" of the NY Times' reporting in this matter:

    "As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing out of a sense of duty to the truth. The fact that I presided over this trial and have never once been contacted by any news organization for comment speaks for itself."

    "With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.” The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them."

  31. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee official in charge of the canonical process against Fr. Murphy has recently posted a statement in The Catholic Anchor

    Sorry, sd, but you'll appreciate that, by this point, the statement of a Roman Catholic offical must be presumed untrue unless corroborated by an independent third party. (And you, in case you were wondering, are not an independent third party.)

    Meanwhile, those not fighting a rearguard action to defend a global child-rape conspiracy might be interested in this piece that Henry Farrell has posted at Crooked Timber, riffing on the title of Albert Hirschman's famous book. Henry thinks that many RCs, on seeing their religion's nature exposed, will choose Exit. From Henry's lips to God's ear, of course, though there will doubtless remain a not insignificant rump of apologists for whom Loyalty is paramount, even when the thing to which they are loyal is such that their loyalty reveals not virtuous but vicious character.

  32. It really is useless arguing with a liar, but how can you possibly avoid the statement made in Bertrone's July 13, 1998 letter, "This Dicastery has every hope … which will favor the good souls and avoid scandal." Are you arguing that somehow "Dicastery" refers to the Wisconsin bishoprics and not the CDF. The letter is signed by Bertrone. What game are you playing?

  33. Anon,

    Bertone doesn't say that the CDF is proposing alternate remedies to avoid scandal. He lays out his reasoning for alternate remedies clearly in the April 6 letter, reasons which do not include anything related to public reception of the strategy. In the July 13 letter he acknowledges Archbishop Weakland's desire to avoid scandal with a polite remark that the CDF hopes that the proposed alternate remedies will accomplish that goal too. But he is not saying that's why he favors a course of action other than a trial. Its simply wrong to read his letter that way. If a child tells his parents that he wants a candy bar, and they give him an orange saying "here honey, its just as sweet as a candy bar," you wouldn't conclude that the parents want the child to have junk food.

    But even if you don't believe me – ask yourself this. If Archbishop Weakland is correct that the best PR move for the Church is to move forward with a full canonical trial (and he almost certainly is right on this point – as a trial will certainly be interpretted by the outside world as being "tougher" on Fr. Murphy than alternate remendies), and if, as many critics of the Church suggest, the Church is motivated in these cases primarily by a desire to protect its good name, then why does the CDF continually recommend against a trial? The facts of the abuse cases were well known in the Milwaukee area by 1998. The trial would not have caused any further "revelations" to come out, and would have won the Church some PR points for being aggressive against an abuser.

  34. You may tell me up is down, but don't expect me to believe you. And don't expect me to believe anything else you say after it becomes obvious that you are willing to argue up is down.

  35. sd says:


    "Let’s unpack this. You asserted that “He had files from just about everywhere moved to the Vatican, so that local law enforcement couldn’t get them.” I suggested that this was false.

    You have not been able to find evidence “so far” that anyone “ordered files transferred to the Vatican” and I’m confident that you won’t. Because that never happened. So that’s that."

    You're correct – until such time as it comes out again, which is the pattern here.

    All I've been able to establish is that Ratzinger was part of the cover-up.

    But please keep arguing; it'll be fun to watch people like you slowly backing up. I wonder just how far you'll have to go.

    Here's some free advice – fess up, truly repent, change your ways, and work to heal the victims and prevent further abuse.

  36. Michael said it best: "The slow drip of acid on the Catholic church, and especially on the pope, from the daily revelations of non-feasance, malfeasance, and active coverup is going to go on corroding the machinery, and burning the gilt off the façade, for a long time. "

    sd, confess, and save your soul. Otherwise, the slow drip of acid will continue.

  37. Barry,

    You've established no such thing. You've made arguments that are a mix of false data and mis-interpretation of real data.

    On the false data: you can assert, as you seem to be asserting, that its OK that there is no evidence to back up your claims because surely in the future there will be. On that logic you might as well accuse a young Fr. Ratzinger of being the trigger man on the JFK assasination. Hey – there's no evidence for it, but just wait un til the next round of scandals breaks!

  38. sd: "On that logic you might as well accuse a young Fr. Ratzinger of being the trigger man on the JFK assasination. " Well, no – but keep on dripping that acid.

    "Hey – there’s no evidence for it, but just wait un til the next round of scandals breaks!"

    Which, just in case you haven't noticed, won't be that long – are we on a monthly cycle of new outrages, or has it gone to weekly at this point?

    You know, if *I* loved an institution, I'd be a bit pissed off if somebody were destroying it from within.

    But that's just me.


  39. sd, about reading the documents: "…First of all, in none (none) of the documents originating at the Vatican (March 12 1997, March 24 1997, April 9 1997, April 6 1998, July 13 1998, August 15 1998 (Dioscece of Milwaukee’s translation of the attachment to the July 13 1998 correspondence), September 28 1998) is any mention made of the desire to avoid scandal on the part of the CDF as a motivation for any action. "


    I'm seconding Mrs. Tilton here – by now, you've made it clear that you are an apologist.

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