Friday, March 26, 2010
Truth will make you free (John 8:32)For the sake of clarity, I take the liberty to insert this excellent account of the National Catholic Reporter whose address is given below with much gratitude! In this sad affair, truth acknowledged alone might eventually heal the credibility gap between the Catholic Church hierarchy and the grassroot people.
Credibility gap: Pope needs to answer questionsWe now face the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history The Holy Father needs to directly answer questions, in a credible forum, about his role -- as archbishop of Munich (1977-82), as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1982-2005), and as pope (2005-present) -- in the mismanagement of the clergy sex abuse crisis.Nothing less than a full, personal and public accounting will begin to address the crisis that is engulfing the worldwide church. An NCR Editorial editorial20100326.jpg  Peter Isely, left, speaks to journalists as Barbara Blaine displays a picture of herself as a child and a banner saying, "Expose the Truth! Stop Secrecy," as they take part in a demonstration against child sexual abuse by clergy, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 25. Isely and Blaine, both of the U.S, claim to be victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)
The Holy Father needs to directly answer questions, in a credible forum, about his role -- as archbishop of Munich (1977-82), as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1982-2005), and as pope (2005-present) -- in the mismanagement of the clergy sex abuse crisis.
We urge this not primarily as journalists seeking a story, but as Catholics who appreciate that extraordinary circumstances require an extraordinary response. Nothing less than a full, personal and public accounting will begin to address the crisis that is engulfing the worldwide church. It is that serious. To date, as revelations about administrative actions resulting in the shifting of clergy abusers from parish to parish emerge throughout Europe, Pope Benedict XVI's personal response has been limited to a letter to the Irish church. Such epistles are customary and necessary, but insufficient.
With the further revelations March 26  by The New York Times that memos and meeting minutes exist showing that Benedict had to be at least minimally informed that an abuser priest was coming into the archdiocese of Munich and that he further had been assigned without restrictions to pastoral duties, it becomes even more difficult to reconcile the strong language of the pope in his letter to Irish bishops and his own conduct while head of a major see. No longer can the Vatican simply issue papal messages -- subject to nearly infinite interpretations and highly nuanced constructions -- that are passively "received" by the faithful. No longer can secondary Vatican officials, those who serve the pope, issue statements and expect them to be accepted at face value.
We were originally told by Vatican officials, for example, that in the matter of Fr. Peter Hullermann, Munich Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger approved the priest's transfer to the archdiocese, but had no role in the priest's return to parish ministry, where he again molested children. Rather, it was Fr. Gerhard Gruber, archdiocesan vicar general at the time, who, according to a March 12 Vatican statement, has taken "full responsibility" for restoring the priest to ministry. Gruber, subsequent to his statement, has not made himself available for questions. We are told, moreover, that the case of Hullermann is the single instance during Ratzinger's tenure in Munich where a sexually errant priest was relocated to a parish where he could molest again. If true, this would be a great exception to what, in the two-and-a-half decades NCR has covered clergy abuse in the church, has been an ironclad rule: Where there is one instance of hierarchical administrative malfeasance, there are more.
Given memos and minutes placing the pope amid the discussions of the matter, we are asked to suspend disbelief even further. Context of mismanagement The first reported clergy sex abuse stories, dating back in NCR to 1985, focused on the misconduct of priests who had been taken to court by parents of molested children -- parents who had gone to church officials, but received no solace. Instead, what they received from church officials was denial and counter accusation. Almost from the beginning of the coverage of these trials, it was clear the clergy sex abuse story had two consistent components: the abusing priest and the cover-up by the bishop.
The story grew as more survivors of abuse came forward. What soon became evident was that this was not primarily a story of wayward priests, but of an uncannily consistent pattern by individual bishops. In nearly every instance, bishops, faced with accusations of child abuse, denied them, even as they shuffled priests to new parishes, even as they covered up their own actions.
The story was first flushed out in the United States and soon across Canada. By the year 2000, sex abuse accusations were turning up across the globe. In the United States, the scandal flared anew in 2002 when a judge released thousands of pages of documents dealing with the sex abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese. Suddenly, ordinary Catholics had access to the patterns involved in the cover-up and to the unfiltered language of memos and legal depositions and letters that outlined how church officials sought to protect perpetrators and marginalize their victims. All at once, the public outrage was commensurate with the hierarchy's outrageous behavior. The story would repeat itself around the country: Wherever documents were released or legal authorities conducted investigations, the depth of clerical depravity and the extent of hierarchical cover-up were far greater than previously acknowledged by church authorities.
Knowing they had an unprecedented crisis of credibility and facing potential multibillion-dollar liability, the U.S. bishops met in Dallas in June 2002. The whole world, represented by more than 800 members of the press, was watching. There the prelates unveiled what came to be a "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People." It was intended to protect children from molestation, establishing a "one strike and you're out" policy for offending priests. It did nothing, however, to hold accountable individual bishops who engineered the cover-up.
By early 2001, responsibility for managing the church's response to the ongoing crisis was delegated to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger. The Vatican, by then, viewed the crisis as beyond the boundaries of any one national church.
Crisis crosses bordersIn the last decade the story has not gone away. Rather it has
continuously reared its head in nation after nation, especially in those countries with a free press and independent judicial system. A dominant characteristic of this story is that where and when it has emerged it has done so without the aid of church hierarchy. To the contrary, it has taken lawsuit after lawsuit, investigative report after investigative report, to bring this horrendous story to necessary light.
Another part of the pattern of this dispiriting tale is that church officials have never been in front of the story. Always late, always responding, and, therefore, at every step of the way losing credibility. This seemed to be the case once again with Benedict's pastoral letter to Irish Catholics.
By the time he issued the letter, the story had moved to his native country, Germany, and had touched him personally. In the past two months, there have been more than 250 accusations of sex abuse in Germany. From the German Catholic viewpoint, the pope's failure to mention anything about these abuse cases has pained them deeply and added to suspicions that the former archbishop of Munich has lost touch with his people.
Inexorably, a story that began with reports on trials in a few U.S. cities a quarter century back has now moved up the Catholic institutional ladder -- from priests to bishops to national bishops' conferences and to the Vatican itself. This last step is the one we see emerging this month. The new focus is unlikely to end anytime soon.
Time for answersThe focus now is on Benedict. What did he know? When did he know it? How did he act once he knew? The questions arise not only about his conduct in Munich, but also, based also as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A March 25 Times story , citing information from bishops in the United States, reported that the Vatican had failed to take action against a priest accused of molesting as many as 200 deaf children while working at a school from 1950 to 1974. Correspondence reportedly obtained by the paper showed requests for the defrocking of the priest, Fr. Lawrence Murphy, going directly from U.S. bishops to Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican secretary of state. No action was taken against Murphy.
Like it or not, this new focus on the pope and his actions as an archbishop and Vatican official fits the distressing logic of this scandal. For those who have followed this tragedy over the years, the whole episode seems familiar: accusation, revelation, denial and obfuscation, with no bishop held accountable for actions taken on their watch. Yes, there is a depressing madness to this story. Time after time, this is a story of institutional failure of the deepest kind, a failure to defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a failure to put compassion ahead of institutional decisions aimed at short-term benefits and avoiding public scandal.
The strategies employed so far -- taking the legal path, obscuring the truth, and doing everything possible to protect perpetrators as well as the church's reputation and treasury -- have failed miserably. We now face the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history. How this crisis is handled by Benedict, what he says and does, how he responds and what remedies he seeks, will likely determine the future health of our church for decades, if not centuries, to come.
It is time, past time really, for direct answers to difficult questions. It is time to tell the truth.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
I am pleased to offer to the English reader of my blog Katutura, this analysis of Sister Joan Chittister. Although her view point is America, she makes a world wide survey of what is happening in the Catholic Church.
I am most grateful to Joan Chittister for her clear sighted thinking, her courage, and wish to share with you, dear readers, her search for truth. Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B., (born April 26, 1936) is a Benedictine nun, author and speaker. She is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, where she served as prioress for 12 years. Sister Chittister writes a weekly web column for the National Catholic Reporter, "From Where I Stand".
From Where I Stand Divided loyalties: an incredible situation http://184.108.40.206/blogs/where-i-stand/divided-loyalties-incredible-situation By Joan Chittister Created Mar 17, 2010
For all the certainty about the facts of the case, there is still an aura of discontent everywhere about the situation surrounding clerical sex abuse in the church. No one disputes the data now; everyone disputes the nature of the problem. And worse than that, the data simply keeps piling up on all sides.
First, the world called it an "American problem." As in, those Americans are a wild bunch anyway, what else can you expect?" The Vatican went so far as to dismiss the issue as simply another demonstration of American exaggeration -- what the Irish call the American tendency to be "over the top." Then Ireland found itself engulfed in the problem and suddenly the outrage was no longer seen as "over the top." On the contrary, it became a display of integrity. Nor were the numbers seen as being exaggerated by the media. On the contrary, the numbers of child victims, the world began to understand, had, if anything, been minimized.
Now, the boil has broken in Europe, too: in the Netherlands, in Austria, in Germany, and, oh yes, in the Vatican, as well. Now, the United States is no longer seen as being hysterical about a non-problem but early in its confrontation of it, also a decidedly American trait. But what, precisely, is "it?" What is the real problem? Note well: After stories of the first few high-profile cases of serial rapes and molestations and their unheard of numbers died down, the focus shifted away from individual clerical rapists to the unmasking of what was now obviously a systemic problem.
This prevailing practice of Episcopal cover-ups, of moving offenders from one parish to another rather than expose them either to legal accountability or to moral censure in the public arena, occupied the spotlight. It was a practice that saved the reputation of the church at the expense of children. It traded innocence for image. But we know all of that. So why doesn't all of this just settle down and go away? Why won't these people -- these survivors -- "just forget about it," some people said. The answers to that question is both personal and social. For some, of course, the need to expose their experiences comes out of the need to heal themselves by reclaiming a sense of control over their lives.
To stop living in the shadow of victimhood and powerlessness. For others of them, it was because, having had their secret shame exposed, they now found the courage themselves to speak out about the unspeakable ghost that had for so long haunted their lives. But it is also possible that the survivors go on drawing our attention to the situation because, this time, consciously or unconsciously, they are trying to warn us of a second aspect of the problem, still largely undefined, that is at least as serious -- even the incubator, in fact -- of the obvious issues of cover-up and concealment. This time, however, it is Ireland, not America, that is ripping away the veil from this even deeper dimension, the one that moves beyond the problems of sexual repression and institutional face-saving.
The unmasking of this context requires changes in the church that are in ways more serious -- and certainly as important -- as is the awareness of the danger of the sexual abuse itself. The dilemma that really threatens the future of the church is a distorted notion of the vow of obedience and the tension it creates between loyalty to the Gospel and loyalty to the institution -- translate: "system." In this case, the problem swirls around Ireland's Primate, Cardinal Sean Brady, a good man with a good heart and a good reputation. Until now. In 1975, then Fr. Sean Brady, a newly certified canon lawyer and secretary to then Bishop Francis McKiernan, now deceased, in the diocese of Kilmore, took testimony from two young boys abused by the serial rapist Fr. Brendan Smyth. At the end of those interviews, Brady exacted a vow of silence from the boys, which effectively protected Smyth from public censure and enabled him to go on abusing children -- including in the United States -- for another 18 years.
Brady, too, said nothing to any one about the case, other than to his bishop, ever again. Not to the guardian, not to the courts, not even to the bishops to whose dioceses Smyth had then been sent. Challenged now to resign because of that failure to give evidence of a crime, Brady's answer is the Nuremberg defence: He was only following orders; he did not have the responsibility to make any reports other than to his bishop; he was only a note-taker. All of these elements of the situation are now in hot dispute. But the question is deeper than the simple ones of role and organizational responsibility.
The question is why would a good man with a good heart, as he surely is, think twice about his responsibility to take moral and legal steps to stop a child predator from preying on more children everywhere, some of them for years at a time? The answer to that question is a simple one: It is that the kind of "blind obedience" once theologized as the ultimate step to holiness, is itself blind. It blinds a person to the insights and foresight and moral perspective of anyone other than an authority figure. Blind obedience is itself an abuse of human morality.
It is a misuse of the human soul in the name of religious commitment. It is a sin against individual conscience. It makes moral children of the adults from whom moral agency is required. It makes a vow, which is meant to require religious figures to listen always to the law of God, beholden first to the laws of very human organizations in the person of very human authorities.
It is a law that isn't even working in the military and can never substitute for personal morality. From where I stand, if there are any in whom we should be able to presume a strong conscience and an even stronger commitment to the public welfare; it is surely the priests and religious of the church. But if that is the case, then the church must also review its theology of obedience so that those of good heart can become real moral leaders rather than simply agents of the institution. A bifurcation of loyalties that requires religious to put canon law above civil law and moral law puts us in a situation where the keepers of religion may themselves become one of the greatest dangers to the credibility -- and the morality -- of the church itself.