Three Years Later: What Happened to the “Independent Commission?”

Mr. James Grein

In November 2018, James Grein spoke at the Church Militant rally in Baltimore, outside the annual meeting of American Catholic bishops.

James’ courage moved me and inspired me. Theodore McCarrick had done everything possible to destroy James’ life. But James stood up and fought back.

Earlier that year, the Catholic world had learned:  McCarrick systematically abused seminarians and young priests under his authority. He did this over multiple decades. Scores of Church officials knew about it.

The big problem was: We Catholics are supposed to appeal to our bishop for justice, when someone violates our sacred rights. But who do you go to, when it’s the bishop himself violating those rights? Archbishop McCarrick’s victims had no one to whom they could appeal. (Except the Vatican, of course, which ignored them.)

Theodore McCarrick’s installation as Archbishop of Newark, NJ, 1986. (Photo by D.J. Zendler.)

So the hue and cry in the fall of 2018 centered around this concept: We need an authoritative body, made up mostly of lay people–an independent commission–to which Catholics can turn for justice, when the malefactor is the local bishop.

That fall, the winner of the Canon Law Association’s annual award gave a speech endorsing this idea. Our local bishop here supported the idea, in a pastoral letter.

The establishment of just such an independent commission–to investigate the wrongdoing of bishops–sat squarely on the agenda for the Baltimore meeting that fall. Many, if not most, of the bishops arrived at the Inner Harbor expecting to vote in favor of establishing the independent commission.

That is, until the item wasn’t on the agenda anymore. James Grein gave the world a glimpse of soaring courage in the November cold. Meanwhile, inside the adjacent hotel, the American bishops gasped when the then-president of the conference announced that the Vatican had insisted they not vote to establish the independent commission.

The rationale: A few months later, the pope would host bishops-conference presidents from all over the world in Rome, to discuss the sex-abuse scandal. So the American bishops should hold off, until after that meeting.

They did. No independent commission to investigate bad bishops got established. The Vatican meeting occurred the following February. That meeting gave rise to a document published by the pope the following May, providing some temporary rules for how to deal with sex-abuse. Those temporary rules themselves gave rise to some revisions to the Code of Canon Law, set to go into effect in a week.

Things came full circle earlier this month, at the 2021 US bishops’ meeting in Baltimore. A Vatican official explained the revision of Canon Law to the American bishops. Cases of abuse involving seminarians, and other vulnerable Catholics preyed upon by Church officials, are to be handled by…

The local bishop.

Quite a way to conclude the process of “addressing” the McCarrick crisis.

Fall 2018: American Catholics urge the bishops to establish an independent commission, which would stand ready to deal with the next McCarrick.

Fall 2021: A Vatican official explains to the American bishops that the person who will handle the next McCarrick will be the next McCarrick himself.

Problem (resoundingly not) solved.

AD 1300 and Following

Pope Boniface Colonna Schiaffo di Anagni
Schiaffo di Anagni

We had a Jubilee Year in AD 2000. A group of us seminarians at Catholic University in Washington managed to get ourselves to Rome, to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. We met Pope John Paul II. A few years ago I wrote an essay about the effect that visit had on my Catholic-convert soul.

Pope Boniface VIII beautified Rome for the first-ever Jubilee Year there, in AD 1300. The Muslim conquest of the Holy Land meant that Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulcher could no longer occur. So the pope opened Rome; he restored the ancient Christian custom of coming on pilgrimage to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul.

Pope Boniface made a huge success with the Jubilee Year 1300. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims came. There was, nonetheless, a foreboding absence from the ranks of those pilgrims. Among the throngs in the Roman streets that year, there was not a single European monarch. None came.

In other words, something lovely happened in Rome in 1300. But something terrible was about to happen. Five weeks ago I promised more information about the Avignon papacy and a digest of our Catholic faith in the office of pope. Seems like AD 1300 is the best place to begin…

Age of the Great Western Schism Clinton Locke

The reign of Boniface VIII marked a turning point in history, ending a period that had begun seven centuries earlier, with the pontificate of St. Gregory the Great. Gregory had filled a power vacuum in western Europe when the reach of the Byzantine emperor into western affairs waned. The Sucessor of St. Peter became the pre-eminent authority in shaping the politics of the western half of the now-crumbling Roman empire.

Seven centuries later, however, Pope Boniface found that he could not command the absolute allegiance of the grandsons of the monarchs over which his predecessors had held sway. Gregory the Great, acting out of charity towards the poor, had made the Holy See a model of administrative efficiency at the dawn of the seventh century. The latter part of the thirteenth century, however, saw an altogether dysfunctional Roman operation.

Between 1254 and 1285, the pope was absent from Rome for all but four years. (Some historians call this period the “Viterbo Papacy” because the pope was so often resident there.) During this interval, conclaves held to elect a new pope after the death of the old one often dragged on for years. The conclave that elected Pope Gregory X stretched from 1268 to 1271. Indeed, sometimes conclaves would last longer than the ensuing papacy: the conclave that elected Celestine V lasted over two years, but the poor pope reigned for only five months. Also, men who had never even been ordained to the priesthood were often elected pope.

The Cardinals, after the new pope shows total ignorance of Scripture: “Gosh, I guess we should have put ‘in Holy Orders’ in the job description!”

We mentioned last month how Pope Celestine resigned the papacy in 1294. Celestine had consulted with a learned Cardinal, Benedetto Caetani, about the legality of resigning. Caetani had advised Celestine that he could legally resign. In the subsequent conclave, Caetani became Pope Boniface VIII.

(Caetani’s role in Celestine’s resignation would later be used against Boniface in an elaborate p.r. campaign by King Philip IV of France–even though Caetani had not, in fact, pressured Celestine in any way.)

In 1303 conflict between Rome and Paris reached the breaking point. Boniface declared as solemn doctrine the practical reality that his predecessor Gregory had seized upon, that is: God had subjected all human beings to the Roman Pontiff. King Philip responded by calling for Boniface’s removal from office, and the king spread false charges against the pope. Philip arraigned Boniface for heresy and demanded that an ecumenical council sit in judgment on him.

Meanwhile, Pope Boniface, staying in his hometown of Anagni, outside Rome, prepared a document excommunicating King Philip.

Henchmen of the king’s arrived and commandeered the building, intending to arrest the pope and take him to France for trial. The historical record is not clear regarding what happened when the henchmen encountered the pope. They may have physically assaulted him. They almost certainly at least slapped him. The slap has come to be known as the Schiaffo di Anagni.

Dante refers to this outrage in Canto XX of Purgatorio. The poet calls King Philip “the new Pilate,” who “mocked and imprisoned Christ a second time, in His vicar.” Dante adds: “I see vinegar and gall renewed, and between living thieves I see them kill Him.”

After the Schiaffo, the townspeople of Anagni turned on King Philip’s henchmen, allowing Boniface to escape and return to Rome. But he did indeed die, in a month’s time, at age 73.

Benedict XI was then elected pope in a one-day conclave.

As a Cardinal, the new pope had stayed with Boniface through the ordeal in Anagni. But, by the same token, Benedict wanted no more trouble with King Philip.

Benedict tried a middle way, restoring all of King Philip’s ecclesiastical prerogatives, but meanwhile pursuing legal action against the ruffians of Anagni. And Benedict refused to put Boniface through a posthumous trial for heresy, notwithstanding King Philip’s demand for such a procedure.

Benedict died of dysentery, in Perugia, north of Rome, after only eight months in Peter’s Chair. The ensuing conclave lasted eleven months, from July 1304 to June 1305. It proved to be a highly significant event. More to come…

2018-19: McCarrick, McWilliams, and Me

Father Robert McWilliams
Father Robert McWilliams of Cleveland

Can you have a relationship with God without the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, governed by Pope Francis, bishop of Rome, and the bishops in communion with him?

God gives us all existence and life. We exist and live at this moment only because He gives us our share of His pure, infinite existence and life. This establishes a relationship. So, to answer the question above: Yes, you can. But…

What about God revealing something about Himself, like a friend would? Giving us insight into Himself? Showing us His will, His plan–His loving plan? Saving us from our ignorance, and our evil, so that we could find true, everlasting happiness?

God sent His Son, to save us all, to enlighten us all, to give us grace from heaven. Jesus Christ saves and redeems the whole world. He founded His Church, giving us the Holy Eucharist of His Body and Blood, through the priesthood that continues from the Last Supper till now by the laying on of hands.

McCarrick ordinationTheodore McCarrick made us–my classmates, myself, all the couple hundred men he ordained–he made us ministers of the Body and Blood of God Incarnate. Can I have a relationship with God without the Church and the Holy Mass? Me, Mark White, Father Mark White–can I? No, I don’t believe so.

McCarrick’s criminal trial in Massachusetts will unfold in 2022. May it be God’s will, the world will hear for the first time, in open court, the testimony of one of McCarrick’s victims. A man who first appealed to Church authorities for help over 30 years ago. May justice be done, in that Massachusetts courthouse, next year.

We have come a long way since the initial public revelation of McCarrick’s crimes, back in the summer of 2018. Through 2018 and 2019, I experienced intense anger about the situation, and I wrote a great deal about it, with an angry edge.

In the spring of 2020, the bishop here intervened in the life of the parishes of which I was the pastor. By the grace of God, my anger turned into something else then. A clearer vision of why I find myself in the situation I find myself in.

I just learned this morning some details about the crimes of Father Robert McWilliams of the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio. (One of his victims and the victim’s mother both spoke bravely to a skilled reporter; read the article on the other end of the link only when prepared to deal with a vision of malice that will make you ill to contemplate.)

During the very period of time when I struggled through the throes of my initial anger over the McCarrick cover-up, Father McWilliams was in the process of sexually exploiting and spiritually torturing teens and pre-teens. Children of families that he had first gotten to know while still a seminarian. The families went to the police in October 2019. A judge has now sentenced McWilliams to life in prison.

McCarrick and James
Theodore McCarrick with the young James Grein

The McCarrick situation has progressed since 2019. Much of what I wrote in 2018 and 2019 no longer reflects the current state of affairs. Also, I believe that a careful, private study, on my part, of those old posts will help me understand the inner workings of my soul better. For that reason, the “Scandal Posts” tab above will provide access only back as far as February, 2020–at least for the time being.

Injustice moves us to anger. The emotion is not inherently evil. Only the foolishly proud, however, indulge themselves in believing that their anger is always just. Or even half the time. The perfectly pure-hearted Lord Jesus righeously drove the money-changers and pigeon-peddlers out of the Temple. But I know that my heart is far from perfectly pure. Calm reflection gets me a lot closer to the truth than righteous indignation does.

The battle, however, is only just beginning. If any of us could calmly say that McCarrick and McWilliams have nothing to do with each other; if any of us could scrutinize both situations and see nothing in common, other than incidental aspects–well, then I would have to bow my head and say, ‘My 2018-2019 anger was perhaps understandable, under the circumstances, but now it’s time to move on. After all, I didn’t know anything at all about McWilliams at the time, so it’s a pure coincidence that I vented some anger appropriate to that case, as it unfolded secretly in the hidden recesses of homeschool-Catholic-family Ohio. That’s just a fluke, that I wrote some jeremiads appropriate to the situation, as it happened.’

That would be what I would have to conclude, if we could all look at our beloved Catholic Church right now and say to ourselves, “Yes, the system is sound. This is a tragic, isolated case, just like McCarrick’s was.”

But can we say that?

Didn’t structural problems in the Church enable both these criminals? Problems that persist: unchecked clerical authority and secrecy, protecting the institution instead of souls, thinking about lawsuits instead of the Final Judgment?

One of the intentions I pray for at the holy altar, with the angels for company, is this: May I be spiritually ready to respond to God’s call, as the scandal involving the prelate who ordained me enters its next phase, in 2022. May I have the courage to examine myself honestly. May we all respond with generous love to God’s gift of being who He made us to be, here and now.

Canonical Process Update

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_Angelico
Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico

This fresco has comforted and encouraged me for decades. Then I stepped into one of the small, dark cells in the friary of St. Mark’s last month, and there it was: the original. Painted for the benefit of the one novice who occupied that particular cell.

…Thank you for praying for a successful outcome at our meeting in Richmond on Friday.

I believe that heavenly grace moved us in a good direction. More to come about what happened, in a few days.

Happy October 31st Sunday of the Year today, and happy All Saints Day tomorrow.

My Mass on Tuesday will be for the repose of the souls of all our beloved dead, especially those who died from the long-term affects of sexual abuse by an authority figure.

All Saints Fra Angelico
Fra Angelico fresco, in Fiesole, outside Florence

Metro Trains

Back in 2009, a terrible train collision killed nine people in Northeast Washington, DC, on the Metrorail. It took place one stop north of Catholic University, where I was a student for most of the 1990’s, riding the Metro daily.

metro-train-crash-washington-dc

I rode the Metro daily for decades. In 1976 my brother, my father, and I rode the first-ever Metro train run, along with the mayor. (My dad worked for him at the time; I was five and my brother three.)

metro opening march 1976

Last month I rode the train through Tuscany, where they make train cars. It reminded me of the service problems the Washington Metro experienced during the early years.

There weren’t enough train cars. The first order of rolling stock for the Metro came from Georgia. But then we waited, through the early- and mid- of the 1980’s, for a second and third order, both from Italy.

In the early eighties, you often had to wait 20-30 minutes for a Metro train to come. Then the Italian orders arrived, and everything changed: trains every few minutes. Ridership began to grow steadily, right alongside the growth of the metro area, until 2008.

(I just checked, and there are 280 cars still in service in the Washington Metro, from the order of 290 that arrived from Italy in the mid-eighties.)

Thank God those 280 old cars are still around, since Metro announced this week that the entire 7000-series of rolling stock, acquired in 2015, will have to be taken out of service for an indefinite period of time because of a safety problem.

Now history is repeating itself: 30-minute+ waits for a train to come.

 

I noted back in the summer of 2009, after the heartbreaking crash, that things would never be the same for the Washington Metro. They haven’t been. Ridership has decreased since then, even as metro-area population has risen. In 2008, the Washington Metro system averaged 752,000 trips per weekday. Then ridership began declining annually. When it plunged 85% last year because of coronavirus shut-downs, that drop actually fit into the longer-term trend.

And now this: Yesterday morning during rush hour, the system had only 23 trains running, on six lines. It is a sad, sad spectacle. The doldrums of the early 80’s have returned, but without the promise of a better future this time.

I remember watching this now-quaint little movie as a kid, at the public library down the street from our house.

Things have not turned out so well.

 

Guest Post: Poem By a Survivor

[The author uses the pen-name B. Phil. He wrote this poem ten years before he began to process the trauma of having been sexually abused as a child, by two priests of our diocese. He is now trying to find a hopeful future… Thank you for sharing this with us, B. Phil.]

Not ask “Why?”

Thoughts of suicide have run in my mind
as long as I can remember, that is what I find.
I have always thought of ways for me to die-
for most of my life I have always wanted, for good, to say “Goodbye”.

I had never realized that daily thoughts of death
were not common for others, until I talked to a nurse named Beth.
The thought of having Peace, of being happy, loved, joyous and free;
I honestly felt I didn’t deserve it, NO, not me.

I have tried to die many times and in many ways;
a few attempts put me in the ICU for numerous days.
Over most of my life, I can’t remember many times of happiness
unless I was on the soccer field or in post-orgasmic bliss.

The first time I ever tried to take my own life,
I wasn’t even a teenager and yet had that much strife.
I was so ashamed of who I was and wanted to die,
I put a 12-gauge to my head but couldn’t reach the trigger…God knows why.

The ineradicable feelings of shame and having no worth or value…
not even my own family ever really had a clue.
Being swept under the rug, bullying and numerous types of abuse
were ingrafted into my life; they nearly destroyed me while trying to seduce.

The next few times were quite feeble attempts,
that is why I don’t count them, they are exempt.
I don’t discount the shame, worthless and hopeless feelings,
for they grew and grew, infiltrating almost all of my dealings.

Next came the times that no one can understand
why I lived through them…I have NO doubt that it was God’s Hand.
I overdosed two times on meds because I didn’t think that I could face
the shame and pain; ideas of the future, I never could embrace.

There is a Divine reason behind why I am still alive
for six attempts at suicide, I should not have survived.
I despised God, for a time, for not letting me die…
From now on, I am going to Love Him and others, do His Will and NOT ask “Why?”

John XXIII, Old and New

John XXIII Vatican IIToday we keep the Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII, on the 59th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. [Click HERE for a little compendium of my homilies commemorating the 50th annversary.]

You may not know, dear reader, that Pope St. John was actually the second John XXIII to summon the world’s bishops to Rome for an ecumenical council. (You might not know this unless you have traveled through the cities of Tuscany and read all the historical markers in all the churches.)

Some background:

When Giuseppe Roncalli took the name John at the end of the conclave in 1958, he mentioned to a French Cardinal that he had chosen this name “in memory of France and in memory of John XXII who continued the history of the papacy in France” (We know about this private remark from Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography, John XXIII: Pope of the Council.)

The pope to which newly elected Pope John referred was: the pope who occupied the Chair of St. Peter from 1316 to 1334. John XXII did not occupy it, however, in Rome. He occupied it in the Provencal town of Avignon. John XXII was, in fact, the first pope to both get elected and die in Avignon.

Age of the Great Western Schism Clinton Locke

John XXII’s predecessor, Clement V, had moved the papacy from Rome to France. (More to come on the why and how of this, plus a thorough digest of our Catholic faith in the papacy, in a subsequent post.)

Pope John XXII gave us the prayer “Soul of Christ,” which I daily recite after Holy Communion. He also taught erroneously about the beatific vision (though not in a magisterial utterance), and he had to recant later in life. William of Ockham developed his skeptical philosophy largely because of Pope John XXII’s often wild statements.

But no one despised John XXII, and the money-grubbing papal bureaucracy in Avignon, more than the aging Dante Alighieri. In Paradiso XVIII, the poet wrote of the pope and his courtiers:

Watch, [o heaven of justice], wherefrom issues the smoke

that tarnishes thy ray, that once enkindled wrath

may come on the hucksters in the temple that was

raised and walled with miracles and martyrdom.

O host of Heaven I contemplate, be heard your prayers

to aid all those on earth, led on by bad example…

Thou who recordest but to obliterate [Pope John, who was forever excommunicating people, then lifting the excommunication],

consider that Peter and Paul, who died to save

the vineyard thou hast spoiled, are living yet.

Thou can’st well say, “So ardently do I crave

Florentine coins that I know not the Fisherman nor Paul.”

dante

More to come on the Avignon papacy. But to get to the first “John XXIII…”

You may not imagine that an old book called The Age of the Great Western Schism by a 19th-century Episcopalian churchman could be a can’t-put-it-down page-turner. But it is.

In 1376 the seventh Avignon pope, Gregory XI, finally departed France to return to the city consecrated by the blood of Saints Peter and Paul. He reached Rome in early 1377. After Gregory’s death soon thereafter, however, the Cardinals divided into two parties. (More later on why.) In 1378 two conclaves elected two popes. Urban VII reigned in Italy; Clement VII reigned in France.

Now you might thus surmise: The first John XXIII succeeded Clement; therefore not a real pope. Good guess. But the real history has more twists.

Two popes, each with a valid claim to legitimate election: the schism lasted for a generation. Finally Roman Pope Gregory XII and Avignon “Pope Benedict XIII” agreed to meet near Genoa, with both parties of Cardinals. Both popes promised to resign; then the conclave would choose one pope.

20210914_071920.jpg

Last month I found myself on the Ligurian coast, just south of where the meeting was supposed to have taken place. When the Roman pope did not arrive, the Avignon pope continued journeying south. He made it to La Spezia (where I changed trains). Meanwhile, Pope Gregory made it as far as Lucca (where I spent two lovely days.) Then Gregory balked. Didn’t have the heart to resign as promised.

At this point, the Christian world lost patience. Gregory’s Cardinals left him in Lucca and met up with some Avignon Cardinals in Pisa. They summoned an ecumenical council there, in the sublimely beautiful duomo with the famous leaning campanile.

Pisa duomo and tower

Yes, you read that correctly. The Cardinals, along with other churchman and reigning monarchs, summoned an ecumenical council, on their own authority. Christendom came together in 1409 (minus the two competing popes).

The Council Fathers enjoyed referring to Gregory not as Gregorius but as “Errorius” and to Benedict not as Benedictus but as “Benefictus,” in honor of his practice of selling benefices, or church offices, for cash.

The Council of Pisa condemned and deposed both. Then the Fathers chose another pope, who took the name Alexander V. (Now the world had three popes.) Alexander soon died. His successor: John XXIII.

This 15th-century Pope John attempted to hold an ecumenical council in Rome, just like the 20th-century Pope John ultimately would. But Pisan-pope John XXIII’s effort failed abysmally; hardly anyone came. Then the emperor of Germany convinced him to summon a council north of the Alps.

The Council met in Constance, accepted the resignations of both Gregory XII and “John XXIII,” deposed “Benedict XIII,” and elected Pope Martin V, who then returned the papacy to Rome. He lies now in the confessio of the papal cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

st john lateran painting

Now, I hold unflinchingly to our Catholic faith in the papacy. (As I mentioned, I will delve into that soon.) That Catholic faith in the divinely instituted office of the Successor of St. Peter stipulates: an ecumenical council can only be convoked by the pope, or at least with the explicit permission of the pope.

We faithful Catholics have to acknowledge, however: Were it not for the Council of Pisa–manifestly not convoked by any pope–we might not know for sure who the pope is.

Yes, it’s true: the Lord in His Providence could have solved the problem of the Western Schism in some other way. Other, that is, than the Council of Pisa choosing a pope, who then had “John XXIII” for a successor, who then called the Council of Constance, which then gave us the indubitable Pope Martin V. The Lord could have saved the day by some other design, some course of events that did not include Cardinals and other senior churchmen calling a Council without a pope.

But the fact is that it happened the way it happened. Which explains why the Council of Pisa in 1409 is found neither on the list of official Catholic Ecumenical Councils nor on the list of condemned, not-real Councils.

Le Rapport Sauvé

Jean Marc Sauve CIASE France abuse

Former French priest, Father Bernard Preynat, spent over a decade abusing boys in a scout troop. A quarter-century later, some of the survivors of Father Preynat’s crimes found each other, and they organized a group.

Their courage in speaking about what had happened to them ultimately led to the production of a movie, By the Grace of God.

Father Preynat was indicted, both civilly and canonically. The sitting Archbishop of Lyons, who had perpetuated the cover-up, was also indicted. Father Preynat was ultimately defrocked and jailed.

All of this made the 2018 “Catholic Summer of Shame” particularly intense in France. That fall, the French bishops’ conference (known by the French acronym CEF) ceded to intense public pressure and commissioned an independent study on the problem of sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church.

The independent commission came to be known as CIASE. The Church provided 2.6 million euros; the members of the commission gave 1.2 million euros-worth of volunteer time. Their final report, released this past Tuesday, has generally been called Le Rapport Sauvé in France, after Jean-Marc Sauvé, the career government official who chaired the commission.

This sounds like our American “John Jay Report” of nearly two decades ago. But Le Rapport Sauvé contains much more information and insight. Our John Jay researchers worked only with information provided by US dioceses, and all the documents handed over to them had all names blocked out. (And let’s not forget that the most-prominent churchman involved in commissioning the John-Jay report was Theodore McCarrick.)

The CIASE in France, on the other hand, apparently had free access to all diocesan and religious-order archives, including secret archives. And the CIASE also beat the bushes for victims to come forward.

This transformed the CIASE’s effort into something fundamentally different from what the John Jay researchers did here in the US. The John Ray report gives statistics without any human connection to the victims; Le Rapport Sauvé, on the other hand, became primarily a means for survivors to speak the truth about what had happened to them.

As the English summary of the French report notes:

The CIASE, therefore, is not blind to the fact that, even if representatives of the French Catholic Church wanted the Commission to be set up, it is mainly thanks to the determined action of victims of violence that it actually came to be created, and it is beholden to these people to study their cases.

International news organizations have covered the release of the CIASE report, and for good reason. These media reports have focused primarily on the statistics provided by the CIASE.

The CIASE report grants that its staggering estimate of over 300,000 total victims of sexual violence does not square easily with the number of perpetrators reported. It would work out to 70 victims per criminal, a number higher than is generally thought to be normal.

On the other hand, though, experience has taught us that almost all statistical analyses of criminal sex-abuse actually under-count the real totals.

The report notes:

Such statistics must be treated with caution. The silence of the victims and of the Church inevitably limits our knowledge of the facts.

Our friend Chris O’Leary has done a helpful short video to explain how the average criminal priest sex-abuser could in fact have 70 victims or more in total:

But Le Rapport Sauvé offers much, much more than just numbers. It appears to contain genuine insight into the problem, offered with both humility and conviction. I for one believe that this report is one of the best things to happen in our Church in our lifetimes.

The CIASE promises that a full English translation of the report will be available on-line by the end of the year. In the meantime, I offer some quotes from the 30-page English summary.

Faced with this scourge, for a very long time the Catholic Church’s immediate reaction was to protect itself as an institution, and it has shown complete, even cruel, indifference to those having suffered abuse…

It was only from 2010 that the Church began to recognize victims when it started reporting cases to the judicial system, imposing canonical sanctions and accepted that dealing with aggressors should no longer be an internal affair.

It is not that the violence was organized or accepted by the institution (although this did happen in a very small number of communities or institutions), rather that the Church did not have any clear idea how to prevent such violence or indeed even see it, let alone deal with it in a fair and determined manner.

The Church did not have any clear idea how to prevent such violence or indeed even see it, let alone deal with it in a fair and determined manner.

canon law codex canonici

Canon Law

This past summer, we took note of how our Holy Father revised the Code of Canon Law. The CIASE, however, finds the revision wholly inadequate to deal with the reality of the crisis:

In analyzing factors specific to the Catholic Church which might help explain the sheer scale of the phenomenon, and the Church’s inappropriate reaction to it, the Commission firstly looked into the specificities of canon law, as to a certain degree the inadequacy of the Church’s response to the phenomenon lies in the shortcomings of this law.

Canon law was conceived, above all, to protect the sacraments and reform the sinner. The victim has no place in this law. Canon law, even its criminal aspect, is totally ill-adapted to the repression of sexual violence, which, incidentally, it never refers to by name. The Commission reached the conclusion that canon law is entirely inadequate with regard to fair-trial standards and human rights in a matter as sensitive as the sexual abuse of children.

Despite taking into account the reform of the criminal section of the Code of Canon Law due to come into force on 8 December 2021, in the light of the bleak observations made in the second part of the report, the CIASE nonetheless pleads for a wide-ranging overhaul of canon law in criminal matters, and in dealing with and sanctioning offences. This should begin with a clear definition of the offences in the Code of Canon Law and their implementing legislation, specifying applicable reference standards by establishing a scale of the gravity of offences and by distributing a collection of case law in the matter.

Secondly, canonical criminal procedure needs to be reworked and aligned with basic fair-trial rules, thereby giving victims a place in canonical procedure, which is not the case today.

confessional

The Seal of the Confessional

In France, this has quickly become the most controversial part of the report:

The Church must issue precise directives to confessors regarding the seal of confession. Confessors must not be allowed to derogate, on the grounds of the sanctity of the seal of confession, from the obligations provided for by the [French] Criminal Code, which are compliant with those of natural and divine law, which provides for the protection of a person’s life and dignity, to report to the competent authorities cases of sexual violence inflicted against a child or a vulnerable person.

This is not to question the seal of confession generally; but within the scope of sexual violence inflicted against children, a reminder is issued that the letter and the spirit of the law of the French Republic (Articles 223-6, 226-14, 434-1 and 434-3 of the Criminal Code) apply to every single person on French territory.

[The French laws cited require anyone aware of imminent danger of physical harm to another to alert the authorities.]

The French Bishops’ Conference quibbled with this recommendation. I think that we should recognize the point: It is precisely the inviolability of the seal of the confessional that produces a forum in which a criminal might confess everything. (And in which a victim might begin the process of speaking the truth about what happened.) Without the absolute secrecy, such conversations cannot happen. 

A French government minister has asked the president of the Bishops’ Conference to come and explain; the Archbishop agreed. The meeting is scheduled for next week.

I think this particular controversy will blow over. The French government issued a finding in 2004 that the secrecy of the confessional does not infringe on mandatory-reporting laws.

In another context–implementing Child-Protection policies–the CIASE adds this sensitive observation:

While it is convinced of the merits of such policies of prevention and practical provisions, the CIASE is not blind to the risk entailed by undue rigidity and “protocolization,” so little in keeping with the vocation
of the Church–indeed with any healthy human relationship–and which could potentially asphyxiate relationships. Similarly, too much transparency can be detrimental to intimacy and lead to a paradoxical
climate of surveillance and suspicion. The balance is fragile but necessary in order to clamp down on risk without distorting human relationships.

Ecclesiastical Obedience

The content of seminarian training should include the importance of critical thinking, particularly about issues of authority and obedience…

During all types of catechism, the faithful, particularly children and teenagers, should be taught the importance of listening to one’s conscience with critical intelligence under all circumstances.

With Chris O’Leary, we have earlier considered here the path of “transitional justice.” The CIASE does not use that term, but instead proposes:

“Reparative Justice”

The recommendations made by the CIASE to try and overcome the trauma caused by sexual violence, and the shroud of silence covering it, are not conceived in a spirit of “turning the page,” because in all the testimonials–which the Commission very much hopes echo loudly through its report–the first cry is for justice.

In other words, before proclaiming “it must never happen again,” the “it” has to be recognized, acknowledged, and described, those responsible for “it” need to be designated and, in as far as is possible, reparation for “it’s” consequences need to be found.

Before proclaiming “it must never happen again,” the “it” has to be recognized, acknowledged, and described, those responsible for “it” need to be designated.

It is not enough for the Church to claim awareness, albeit too late in the day. Or to claim that the past is the past and that for today’s and tomorrow’s children and vulnerable persons the same mistakes will not be repeated. For such a discourse which is consistent with the logic of “helping” victims of historical abuse, more often than not time-barred by the [French] Criminal Code, perpetuates an attitude of non-recognition or denial of what really happened, characteristic of the Church during the period analyzed, and is used as an escape from genuinely dealing with the phenomenon.

This is why the Commission insists on the Church’s need for a process of truth and reparation and that it has to begin with the acknowledgement of responsibility which has so far been avoided.

I think the insight in these paragraphs is profound. Let’s give Chris O’Leary the last word here. He produced another video, reflecting on the CIASE report. It offers a stirring exhortation: