The Vatican’s cross
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:49:00 03/31/2010
THIS MUST BE THE BLEAKEST HOLY THURSDAY at the Vatican in many decades. An unholy shroud of suspicion has enveloped the Holy See, threatening to suffocate even the papacy itself. An Associated Press story Wednesday drew a forbidding global picture: “As the faithful fill churches this Holy Week, many Roman Catholics around the world are finding their relationship to the church painfully tested by new revelations of clerical abuse and suggestions [that Pope] Benedict himself may have helped cover up cases in Germany and the US.”
We should point out that these new revelations about insufficient institutional responses to allegations of sexual abuse by predatory priests have had perhaps less impact on the Church in the Philippines (and, the AP story suggests, in Poland too, another staunchly Catholic country). Indeed, the AP story itself recognizes that many of the Catholic faithful who are aware of the latest iteration of a long-running scandal aren’t necessarily thinking of leaving the Church. It quotes Linda Faust, of Greendale, Wisconsin, as saying, rather pungently, “At this point in my life I wouldn’t leave the Church for somebody else’s sins.”
We think this kind of concerned-but-devout attitude reflects the position of many Filipino Catholics. But if a real crisis were to overtake Benedict’s office, the Church in the Philippines will surely feel its impact too.
It is vital, then, to know exactly what is happening—and how Benedict’s involvement has been misreported or misinterpreted.
Make no mistake: we think the continuing sexual abuse scandal is wreaking havoc on the Church and its reputation; we believe the Pope’s role in a possible cover-up of or an altogether sluggish response to allegations of priestly abuse, when he was a bishop in Germany and later when he served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is an entirely legitimate subject of inquiry; we hold the view, shared by many of the faithful, that the Church must do all it can to disinfect itself of the fatal virus of clerical abuse.
But veteran Vatican reporter John Allen, in a lengthy post on his blog for the National Catholic Reporter, has pointed out three fundamental misreadings of the Pope’s involvement. (A much-abbreviated op-ed piece of his has also appeared in the New York Times.) First, it was only in the last four years of his two decades at the helm of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that Benedict, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, assumed the lead role in the Vatican’s crackdown on abusive priests. In other words, before 2001, Ratzinger had no role to play in the investigation of sexual abuse allegations at all.
Second, the May 2001 letter that Ratzinger addressed to his fellow bishops, Allen wrote, “marked recognition in Rome, really for the first time, of how serious the problem of sex abuse really is, and it committed the Vatican to getting directly involved.” In other words, instead of being so-called proof that Ratzinger told bishops to keep sexual abuse allegations secret from government authorities, the letter was, at that time it was issued, “widely hailed as a watershed moment towards a solution.”
Third, to the recent disclosure that only 20 percent of more than 3,000 abuse cases were allowed to proceed to a canonical trial, the New York Times and other news organizations responded by misinterpreting it as proof of Vatican inaction. In other words, many in the media missed the real significance of the disclosure. Thus, Allen wrote: “In the end, however, only 20 percent were sent back for trials, while for the bulk of the cases, 60 percent, bishops were authorized to take immediate administrative action, because the proof was held to be overwhelming … to describe that 20 percent figure as a sign of ‘inaction’ cannot help but seem, to anyone who’s been paying attention, rather ironic.”
None of this is to excuse Church officials, or indeed Pope Benedict XVI himself, from rendering a true account of what they knew and when they knew it, as far as the latest scandals in Germany and in Milwaukee, in the United States, are concerned. That clearing of the air may not be enough to lift the shroud off the Vatican, but it would be a start.