Helpless in the Vatican The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI

AFP

Part 6: Keeping Quiet about Abuse Cases


As it happens, there are members of the Church who are far more obstinate than Joseph Ratzinger in keeping quiet about cases of sexual abuse.

For example, the case of Father Lawrence Murphy from Milwaukee, who molested about 200 boys at a school for the deaf, was not reported to Rome until 20 years after the last incidence of abuse. Under a strict interpretation of church law, that meant that the statute of limitations had already expired.

Nevertheless, Ratzinger's CDF supported the initiation of proceedings against Murphy. Ratzinger's deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, only recommended that the case be dropped after Murphy, who was already fatally ill, had begged for mercy in a letter to Ratzinger.

As prefect of the CDF, Ratzinger urged John Paul II, in 2001, to issue the papal letter known as the "Motu Proprio," which obligated the church to report all abuse cases to Rome and address them there.

Critics saw this as an attempt to keep the scandals under control and to handle them with the utmost discretion. The Vatican insisted that the requirement of "papal secrecy" was meant solely to protect those involved, and that it never precluded reporting abuse cases to the secular authorities.

The Vatican's Worst Nightmare

Many Catholics questioned whether this was true. After the issuance of the Motu Proprio, however, all dossiers relating to pedophile priests passed across Ratzinger's desk. No one in the global Church had a better idea of what was really going on in the seminaries and Catholic institutions. And this is precisely why the Catholic Church could very well face proceedings that could expand into Vatican lawyers' worst nightmare, and could end in the pope having to answer for the charges of abuse in a secular court.

"I want to know what the Vatican knew and when they knew it," attorney William McMurry, who is representing three alleged victims of priest sexual abuse in Kentucky, told the Washington Post. Their case has now come before the US District Court in Louisville, and could eventually make it all the way through the courts to the Supreme Court in Washington. The plaintiffs argue that the Vatican can be held responsible for the damage inflicted by its employees. With the suit, the Americans hope to embark on a legal path that seemed off-limits for years: They are determined to assert a direct claim by abuse victims against the Vatican.

Jeff Anderson, an attorney from Minnesota who has represented hundreds of abuse victims since 1983 and has won millions of dollars in compensatory damages for his clients, has been waiting for such an opportunity to come along. In recent weeks, Anderson made headlines worldwide when he turned over documents about the Father Murphy case to the New York Times. Now he is hoping for the biggest conceivable prize: to subpoena the Holy Father himself. "This is a tipping point," Anderson told the Associated Press. "I came to the stark realization that the problems were really endemic to the clerical culture, and all the problems we are having in the US led back to Rome. And I realized nothing was going to fundamentally change until they did."

Elaborate Defense Strategy

Although legal experts agree that summoning Benedict XVI to testify before a US court is extremely unlikely, the lengthy legal battle this would entail would be embarrassing enough.

Ratzinger's church lawyers have already assembled an elaborate defense strategy. They argue that the pope, as the Vatican's head of state, enjoys immunity against lawsuits in US courts. They also point out that the American bishops who covered up abuse cases are not employees subject to directives from Vatican City.

Ironically, Ratzinger has always advocated that his Church take a tough approach toward sinners in cassocks. For him, the ordination of priests is a central sacrament, an office that entails constant self-examination and strict discipline.

For example, Ratzinger enforced his hard line against the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legion of Christ, a powerful congregation of priests. Maciel Degollado, who died in 2008, allegedly fathered and abused several children.

Despite the many rumors, John Paul II, who deeply respected Maciel Degollado as a servant of God, dedicated a festive mass on St. Peter's Square to the Mexican priest in 2001. One of Ratzinger's first actions in his new office as pope, however, was to banish Maciel Degollado to a monastery.

'Targeted Campaign'

But like the vast majority of bishops in the past (and many today), Ratzinger is also convinced that too much openness only benefits one's adversaries.

At the height of the abuse crisis in the United States, on Nov. 30, 2002, Ratzinger answered questions at the Catholic University of San Antonio de Murcia in southeastern Spain. There are, of course, sinners in the church, he explained, "but personally I am convinced that a targeted campaign is behind the constant media reports on the sins of Catholic priests, particularly in the United States." The goal of this campaign, he said, was to "discredit the Church."

The American church paid dearly for its attempted cover-ups. To date, US dioceses have been forced to pay well over $2 billion (€1.5 billion) in compensation for the misdeeds of about 5,000 priests. Some dioceses have had to declare bankruptcy as a result.

The law of silence regarding abuse cases was still considered unbroken at the time. Cardinals Bernard Law of Boston and Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles were members of opposing camps within the Church, Law being conservative and Mahoney liberal. But the two men agreed that the Church's good reputation was more important than the truth.

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Norberto_Tyr 04/07/2010
1. We do not have to pick on the Pope just because he is German
Unfortunately all this corruption and corrosion affected the church as it affects everything. Polansky is in gaol in his Swiss chalet, and there are numerous cases of pedophilia outside the church. The issue is more general. For example there is the industry of sex tourism; today a conservative paper will show photographs in the main page that would be considered pornographic 20 years ago. The truth, is that the West (whatever this means today, not Christianity any more) have lost its moral compass, it has been utterly subverted, and the Church is not an exception. I am not a moralist, I believe that an adult have their own right on his / her sexuality; the issue here is about minors, education, mass media, the right of the parents to educate their own children in the way they want to be educated. It is clear that this is impossible today due to peer pressure, the sate educational system, and fundamentally, mass media permeating all. We all have a right to live with the people we want surrounding us. Why ? Because this is the only way we can educate our kids in the way we want to be educated. But, this is impossible now, the state chooses the people we MUST live with based on the obscure and fallacious argument of ‘multiculturalism’. In the past, believing that Jesus Christ was God was the main tenet of the Western society, today this is irrelevant, the principal mantra is multiculturalism. This is wrong. If I want to educate my children as Christians, it is very difficult if my neighbors are atheists mocking about the Virgin Mary’s virginity, Christmas (Santa Claus, a Coca Cola advertising), and the Holy Spirit. It is very difficult to ask our teenagers to be chaste if their neighbors and ‘friends’ run sexy parties every week, and the TV, movies (‘I like to movit movit…’), and the whole mass media entertainment actively encourages them in the opposite direction with the complicity of the secular environment imposing the use of prophylactics and sexual education in the manner and WHEN they decide. There are serious studies proving that early ‘sexual education’ greatly reduces the age of the first sexual experience in kids (average). The real issue here is the obvious and colossal fact that we cannot place the fox with the chickens in the same cage. It does not matter how much education in tolerance we give to the incumbents, it is nature, it is as simple and natural as it is sex. The problem, as things are now, is that the fox, if he is expelled, will cry foul and appeal to the sacrosanct MULTICULTURALISM to avoid having to go and hunt (and be hunted) by himself.
sribeiro 04/07/2010
2. Should I continue to think of you as credible?
I signed Der Spiegel newsletter under advice of a Professor, who told me this was a credible and important newspaper because of its good journalism. Sadly, I find it very difficult to see this in previous week’s news on the Catholic Church and the Pope and the sexual abuses question. In fact, each day you have a new text on the subject that gives the impression that Catholic Church is the meanest institution on earth and that the Pope is the devil in person. If this was the only information source I had, it would seem like the whole world is against the Church and the Pope is some kind of a mafia chief felt in disgrace within its organization and that he will be replaced anytime… In fact, haven’t been able to find in this newspaper one text – only one – presenting the Catholic Church’s and the Pope’s defence, point of view or even an independent study on the issue as to let your readers know the other side of the story or just plain facts on child abuse worldwide and over the years; percentage of catholic priest involved in these cases; what this Pope has in fact done and is doing in order to address the problem, etc.. I find it difficult to believe you do think these problems are only felt within the Church, or mainly in the Church – DS journalists do know better. Then why, if I may ask, this one-sided, inequitable, way of presenting the news on this subject? I’ll have to go back to my Professor and discuss this with him – is DS really reliable? Should I take it for granted that the news you publish are in fact news… or just opinion articles, and not what democratic free societies consider news (even if formally they look like news, and are put in the news, not opinion, section)?
plotinus 04/07/2010
3. ...unless they make him an offer he can't refuse
Zitat von sribeiroI signed Der Spiegel newsletter under advice of a Professor, who told me this was a credible and important newspaper because of its good journalism. Sadly, I find it very difficult to see this in previous week’s news on the Catholic Church and the Pope and the sexual abuses question. In fact, each day you have a new text on the subject that gives the impression that Catholic Church is the meanest institution on earth and that the Pope is the devil in person. If this was the only information source I had, it would seem like the whole world is against the Church and the Pope is some kind of a mafia chief felt in disgrace within its organization and that he will be replaced anytime… In fact, haven’t been able to find in this newspaper one text – only one – presenting the Catholic Church’s and the Pope’s defence, point of view or even an independent study on the issue as to let your readers know the other side of the story or just plain facts on child abuse worldwide and over the years; percentage of catholic priest involved in these cases; what this Pope has in fact done and is doing in order to address the problem, etc.. I find it difficult to believe you do think these problems are only felt within the Church, or mainly in the Church – DS journalists do know better. Then why, if I may ask, this one-sided, inequitable, way of presenting the news on this subject? I’ll have to go back to my Professor and discuss this with him – is DS really reliable? Should I take it for granted that the news you publish are in fact news… or just opinion articles, and not what democratic free societies consider news (even if formally they look like news, and are put in the news, not opinion, section)?
The pope *is* a mafia chief, but he won't be replaced anytime soon. .
endovelico 04/07/2010
4. Why?
Catholic priests come often from very strict families, where sex is, at best, an undesirable subject. Future priests often repress their sexuality beyond what would be advisable. Once they grow up and become priests this excessive sexual repression means that they have never dealt properly with their sexuality. In many cases, sooner or later, this will lead to adults trying to "fix" their unsolved sexuality by focusing on the age group which should have had their attention when they were children or teenagers. Child molesting is not a consequence of priest celibacy, but of excessive sexual repression as youngsters. It's a cultural problem which has no quick solution. And the question is: would normal children, with a normal sexuality, ever become interested in becoming priests in a Church which sees sexuality as disgusting? If not, then I'm afraid child molesting is going to remain a problem for the Catholic Church.
goliah 04/07/2010
5. This church has no future...
"The waves of accumulating scandal engulfing the roman catholic church will look a mere trifle compared to the 'perfect storm' that is shortly coming. For these growing, worldwide sexual scandals and endemic institutional corruption, having destroyed virtually any remaining 'moral' authority or presumption to understand human nature, are just setting the stage for the 'churches' worst nightmare: the questioning of it's very origins! And that has already begun on the web. Not by any atheist ravings, but with first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the Gospel and moral teachings of Christ. Redefining everything from the nature of faith to the Resurrection, for the first time in history, however unexpected, the world must now measure for itself, the reality of a new claim to revealed truth, a moral tenet not of human intellectual origin, offering access by faith, to absolute proof, an objective basis for moral principle and a fully rational and justifiable belief!* This is not reformation but revolution. We may very well come to 'remember' the church as two thousands years of hubris, theological self deception, retailing a counterfeit copy of revealed truth. Check it at: http://www.energon.org.uk "*
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