We are witnessing a cruel irony of history: Joseph Ratzinger, one of the few ecclesiastics to evidence genuine horror at the sexual abuse of children by priests and the one pope since perhaps Pius V to act against corruption in the Church, is receiving a massive international attack for his failures in handling abuse cases.
It is not entirely undeserved. Ratzinger worked within the system and accepted how it handled sexual abusers: treatment and secrecy, and no regard for the victims. He seems to have come to a genuine awakening and determined to change the Church once he became pope, and he did immediately act against abusers, such as Maciel, whom John Paul had protected.
But Ratzinger too had failed to protect children, chiefly through negligence. At the very least, he did not monitor Peter Hullermann, he did not forbid Hullermann to work in a parish, he did not read the memo (perhaps) that Hullermann has been assigned to parish work within days of arriving in Munich for therapy for the “disease” of pedophilia.
Nor in the correspondence I have read in other cases did Ratzinger, the son of a policeman, ever suggest that the police be contacted, or that victims be cared for.
He was disgusted by the behavior of the abusers, but he did not show much awareness of the harm that was being done to the victims.
Criminal justice is necessary to vindicate the victim. The criminal, especially the sexual abuser, had by his actions shown he regards his victim as sub-human, as a mere object for his use. When the community punishes the criminal, it vindicates the victim, demonstrating that it regards the victim as a person whose worth is recognized. This is true of the penal sanctions of the state and of the Church.
Commentators on the Commonweal blog defended Ratzinger’s decision not to laicize the abuser Murphy at the end of his life – why Murphy was no longer a threat to children, and to laicize him before his death would have been “vindictive.” Yes, precisely, it would have vindicated the victims, as criminal prosecution would have done.
Ratzinger was simply following policies of the pontificates of John Paul and probably John XXIII; but if he were to point this out, he would be asked the question – Why then are you canonizing these men as saints?
Underlying Ratzinger’s failure was of course clericalism and a desire to preserve the image of the priesthood. But even deeper than that is a voluntaristic tendency in Western morality that he himself has noticed and criticized. God forbids certain actions not arbitrarily (as the voluntarists says), but because the actions harm the goodness and beauty of the creatures whom He made and loves.
Therefore God forbids sexual abuse because it harms both the abuser and the victim. Even if the abuser repents (and which ones ever have?) the harm to the victim remains, and can never really be undone. It must be atoned for – but atonement, expiation, has vanished from the Catholic mind, and has even been explicitly rejected by the head of the German bishops’ conference. Of course, because otherwise the bishops and the pope would have much to atone for, and atonement is humiliating and painful, and bishops and popes do not like to be humiliated.
Disgusted in DC
“Criminal justice is necessary to vindicate the victim. The criminal, especially the sexual abuser, had by his actions shown he regards his victim as sub-human, as a mere object for his use. When the community punishes the criminal, it vindicates the victim, demonstrating that it regards the victim as a person whose worth is recognized. This is true of the penal sanctions of the state and of the Church. ”
True, but prosecutors often will not prosecute old, dying men because (a) the retributive value of the prosecution is very limited, (b) the humane impulse to leave a dying man in peace, and (c) if a person dies before all appeals on a conviction has run, the conviction is expunged. There have been exceptions, such as prosecuting elderly KKK members for murders and bombing campaigns in the South during the 50s-60s, but those are the exceptions. Given what the CDF knew about the health, odious Wisconsin priest, I do not see its decision to be at all unreasonable.
Moreover, I recall that at the time the media celebrated the Pope’s discipline of the now-infamous Father Maciel, even though the punishments against him, such as they were, are identical to what the media denounces now. The media is being grossly inconsistent in this respect.
Excellent post. I think there’s blood in the water now and reporters are not going to stop until they exhaust everything there is to know. What, one wonders, will be uncovered in the next few weeks, and how much more damage will it do?
Hmm. Are there reporters who actually investigate anything any more? I thought they were all just good-looking blondes who read press releases.
War tactics should be applied to Vatican City ¬– where the devil takes his holiday
By Mike Ference
817 Worthington Avenue
Clairton, PA 15025
Every day brings new evidence that we no longer live in a civilized and principled society. The worst part, it usually concerns another case of sexual misconduct involving a Catholic priest, young children and a church hierarchy that helped to cover up the case.
The Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal continues to spiral out of control from one country to the next; while the pope still refuses to solve the problem. It’s now clearly documented that across the globe tens of thousands of innocent girls and boys have been sexually violated – used and abused as sex toys by Catholic clergy, yet, nothing has or will ever be done. Thousands of pedophiles, former Catholic clerics, roam the world and no one really knows where these monsters are, how many victims they have left behind or how many more will suffer from priests trained to sexually abuse since their seminary days.
So — what should be done now that we know it’s a pattern of terror orchestrated by the Catholic Church hierarchy and repeated everywhere the dysfunctional sex freaks have established a church, school, hospital or other institution; then covered up in every layer of the all male run society – even by the pope, himself. Given the level of wreckage and anguish caused in the lives of so many people, it seems appropriate to look to the war on terror for a model strategy.
A first prong of attack at the Vatican might involve a Special Forces unit made up of highly skilled and trained military personnel capable of tracking down and obtaining confessions from any current or former priests accused of acts of sexual abuse against children. If rights are violated, if military personnel sometimes go a little too far, so be it. The Catholic Church had ample opportunity to fess up and repent. Those incapable of civilized behavior shouldn’t expect the rights and privileges of civilization.
A deck of cards can be created to help identify hard-to-find priests as well as the disgraceful church leaders who permitted, and in essence, condoned the sexual abuse of young children. Photos of the most deviant and reprehensible church officials accompanied by a list of their offenses will encourage us all to do our patriotic duty in helping the authorities track down suspected priest-terrorists or at least be able to identify the culprits as they come and go freely because their sins where covered up and the time to criminally prosecute has expired.
Another option would be to divide the world into territories. A color-code warning system would be established, alerting parents about abusive priests being transferred into their respective regions. Depending on the designated color for a particular region, parents would know whether their children should serve at Mass, go on field trips, or even attend Catholic school that day.
To aid this unique war on terror, a pool of money should be collected, not involuntarily from taxpayers, but voluntarily from those decent human beings who believe crimes committed against our children are sins that God takes very seriously. Some of the funds raised could then be turned into outrageously tempting reward sums for information leading to the capture of our targeted criminals. Once the rogue clerics have been imprisoned and forced to talk, I recommend that their confessions be given to someone like Steven Spielberg or George Romero. Hollywood writers and producers could create a blockbuster movie like Roots or Schindler’s List to serve as a bitter reminder that these crimes should never again be permitted to occur. Tom Savini could be hired to recreate the horror on the faces of child actors chosen to play parts.
Proceeds from the movie could go to victims of abuse and their families. And no matter how old the crime, compensation would be available. There should be no statute of limitations when the rights of children have been violated by those who lived much of their adult lives perched on a pedestal heightened by the trust of innocent and vulnerable believers. In fact, I would extend compensation to the second and perhaps even third generation of sufferers. It would certainly include siblings denied the experience of growing up with a brother or sister untraumatized by such abuse. And since crimes of abuse tend to echo, it would extend to the victims of the victims as well.
If all else fails, is it any less rational to declare war on the Catholic Church as part of a war on child abuse than it was to declare war on Iraq (which had nothing to do with 9/11 or Al-Qaeda and apparently had no weapons of mass destruction) as part of a war on terror? How many innocent children have been verifiably lost to this menace — and how many more will be lost if we don’t make a preemptive strike?
As horrific as sexual abuse by priests may be, the perpetrators might merit a more forgiving place if only their superiors had the courage to do the right thing. For a few, counseling and close supervision might have been enough to prevent future abuses. Others clearly required something more intensive — a mental hospital or a prison.
But repeated abuse, as well as willfully hiding the crimes and the criminals — as far as I can see, this brings us much closer to the realm of mortal sin. And the sinners include not just the church hierarchy, but also attorneys who ill-advised parents not to buck the system and take on the Catholic Church, or may even have provided inside information to thwart legitimate cases against the church, law enforcement officials who may have thought it best to warn church officials of pending investigations, and janitors, housekeepers, teachers, and employees of the Catholic Church who kept silent because of concerns about a paycheck, a 401K, a pension, or a fear of standing up to church authorities. God has a place for everyone — and if you abuse children or protect the abusers of children, we can only hope that your place is called hell.
Mike Ference has been an advocate for clergy sex abuse survivors for over 21 years. He has written about the problem and works with clergy abuse families in Pennsylvania and across the United States helping victims work through the corrupt bureaucratic maize of injustice. He attributes much of the problem to corrupt leaders in government, organized crime and Catholic Church hierarchy more concerned about power and money than the salvation of souls. He has labeled the commonwealth of Pennsylvania a Pro-pedophile state where Catholic clergy sex abuse cover-ups are still the norm. Mike can be reached at 412-233-5491 or email him at Ference@icubed.com.
Anne d' Auray Tracy
So, the Pope may be culpable. What else is new? Should he resign? I don’t think so. I think the Church would be hardpressed to find a Cardinal who, as Bishop or Archbishop, didn’t do exactly the same thing in this world if the Pope resigned or died. So, where do we get out next Pope?
Look to the criminal justice system as being complicit in this whole matter. If a victim can, instead of suing, (depending on the statute of limitations of a particular state) let him or her put the perpetrator in prison. Sequestration is the only way to prevent an abuser from abusing children again.
I don’t see how anyone who has actually read the original documents associated with the Wisconsin case — which are all available on the New York Times’s web site — can reasonably conclude that there’s anything to it, to implicate /anyone/ in the Vatican.
The local diocese began laicization proceedings in 1996 (roughly 30 years after the events in question), with the Vatican’s pro-forma approval. The Vatican was /only/ notified because the case involved an accusation of “solicitation in the confessional”. It’s telling that the letter of approval from the Vatican mentions two cases at the same time — the now-infamous Murphy case and another. In other words, this looks like run-of-the-mill standard legal procedure — diocese asks for permission to try the accused, Vatican grants it, no more detailed inquiry necessary.
After nearly two years of local legal process — the thing had to be restarted because the case was originally brought in the wrong jurisdiction — the priest appealed to the Vatican. Then the Vatican got involved in a detailed way — and, in a meeting between Cardinal Ratzinger’s immediate subordinate and the relevant local bishops, all present seemed to agree that the necessary evidence to mount a laicization trial just wasn’t present.
You see, laicizing someone is a big deal, especially when the events in question took place 30 years ago.
So the Vatican recommended that the priest’s diocese impose several more legally-feasible measures, and then a couple of months later the priest died.
Why is this a scandal, at least in terms of the Vatican’s involvement?
I think you are correct that the Vatican involvement in this case was minimal. The chief blame in the church goes in Archbishops Weakland and Cousins, and outside the church to the police.
Because Murphy was dying, it was unlikely a trial would be finished before his death, and as far as I know, there is no provision to find someone guilty after death (although perhaps there should be). Damnatio memoriae is an old Roman custom.
The Vatican can be faulted for not seeking some other way of vindicating the victims – but a far greater share of the blame goes to Weakland, the police, and the district attorneys.
The underlying problem is that for churchmen the victims were invisible – but they were invisible to the forces of law in the state as well.
Point of information: Lee, it’s good to hear that with Pius V there is at least one pope who acted against corruption in the past 500 years. But you overlooked John Paul I. Authors who disagree about his cause of death nevertheless agree that he addressed corruption. Specifically, he initiated important steps during his 33-day pontificate to address the extreme corruption that was ongoing at the Vatican Bank.
Come on now Lee. Everything about the sex abuse crisis was ordered allowed by the Vatican.
Dear Leon, You are so incredibly smart I can’t believe you are still a Catholic. Rituals and rites and church rules instead of relationship? Not for me.I pray that you are baptized afresh and you leave all of this Catholic hocus pokus behind. Until the whole world hears and justice is served for all, Kurt. calvaryftl.org