Seminarians Suffer, and the Pope Does Not Care

When you come to the seminary to seek God’s will, you do not expect…

1. that the bishop will develop a lustful crush on you, and

2. give you love-bird type gifts, like cologne, and

3. ask you about your sexual history and penis size, and then

4. sneak up behind you in the seminary kitchen, grab your crotch, kiss you on the neck, and thrust his pelvis into your buttocks,

and then, for years, repeatedly

5. demand, under “obedience,” with threats of expulsion, that you massage his, neck, back, and buttocks, while he groans in sexual pleasure, as you grudgingly submit, and then

6. you wake up in your dormitory bed with him sitting next to you, his hand on your upper thigh.

When you think the Lord might be calling you to the priesthood, you have to go to seminary, because the alternative would be a life estranged from your Maker.

When you go to seminary, you have to please the bishop, because he alone–a successor of the Holy Apostles of Christ–can make you a priest.

Dear reader, do you know that the earth is littered with wounded men who tried to follow a vocation from God, but ran into an insecure, power-mad, sexually abusive predator with authority under the seminary roof?

Many of my dearest friends belong to this suffering class of men.

pope francis mccarrick
September 23, 2015

Theodore McCarrick left his trail of broken lives. My book, Ordained By a Predator, will soon see print. It attempts to document McCarrick’s spiritual war crimes. I present my work to the great International Criminal Court in heaven, where justice always prevails.

But my book hardly scratches the surface of McCarrick’s crimes against humanity. Yes, a great deal of documentation has become available these past four years. But most of McCarrick’s collateral damage remains hidden, because the powers-that-be in the Church continue to keep most of McCarrick’s secrets.

Ordained By a Predator also tries to document the crimes of McCarrick’s crony Michael Bransfield.

Again, the mitered mafia did everything possible to bury all the evidence. But, as long-time readers here remember, a brave soul on the inside leaked a secret report in the spring of 2019, and the Washington Post published the whole thing in December of that year.

Because of the courageous leaker–and also a Bransfield victim who spoke out–we learned the truth about how the bishop of West Virginia destroyed priestly vocations by endless drunken abuses of power, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. (Not to mention sexual abuse of minors, of which Bransfield is likely guilty, though it has never been adequately investigated.)

We sadly know that the ecclesiastical system as it now exists does not have a mechanism to deal with this problem. Pope Francis seems not to understand the problem. Or, rather, perhaps he understands it all too well.

The six-step ordeal that I outlined above: At least a dozen seminarians in northern Argentina suffered it, between 2013 and 2017, at the hands of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta.

As we mentioned earlier this month, Pope Francis has known Zanchetta for years. The pope heard numerous complaints about Zanchetta, from Catholics whose faith Zanchetta had gravely wounded. But the pope protected his old friend.

McCarrick, Bransfield, Zanchetta: similar m.o.’s. But here’s the difference, which we will explore in some detail today:

McCarrick and Bransfield have suffered nominal ecclesiastical discipline, with most of their secrets kept.

Zanchetta has never been censured by the Church in any way. But an Argentine court has now thrown him in jail. And the court has produced thorough documentation of the case.

Zanchetta verdict
Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, hearing the verdict in his case, in a courtroom in Salta, Argentina

The Spanish-speaking public can read the document published by the court at the conclusion of the criminal case. Gustavo Zanchetta convicted of sexual abuse.

Argentine law defines the crime in article 119 of the Criminal Code. Sexual abuse = violating the sexual integrity of anyone under 13, or anyone who cannot freely consent to sexual contact, as a result of a relationship of authority and/or dependence. If the crime is committed by a minister of religion, that aggravates it and calls for a stiffer sentence.

In their legal analysis of the case, the three-judge panel outlines carefully how the crime of sexual abuse is understood in Argentine law. (See pages 88-91 of the court doc.)

The “legal good” protected by the law is: personal sexual integrity. That is, free sexual self-determination as a person. As the judges explain it, Argentine law requires everyone to respect the dignity of other persons, which includes the freedom to accept, or to reject, sexual contact. To treat a person as a thing, used for sexual gratification without free consent, is a crime.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchNow, it so happens that the judges’ explanation of Argentine law echoes the definition of chastity found in the Catechism (para. 2337).

The judges go on, in their explanation of the law as it applies in the Zanchetta case:

Groping, unchaste embraces, kisses with sexual significance, touching under duress, or compelling the victim to touch–these all violate the law, when the victim cannot consent, owing either to surprise, or to the relationship of authority. Or in this case, both of those.

I’m no lawyer, of course. But it seems to me that Argentine law reflects our Catholic understanding of sexual integrity more comprehensively than our U.S. law does.

Maybe some states have laws like the Argentine law; I don’t know. But I’m afraid that the former seminarians who denounced Zanchetta to the Argentine D.A. would not have gotten anywhere with a criminal prosecution in the U.S. They would have had to hire their own lawyer and undertake a civil case, and Zanchetta would not have faced the prospect of imprisonment.

In addition to the legal reasoning, the Argentine court document contains the testimony of 35 witnesses. Plus Zanchetta’s defense.

The two former seminarians who went to the police in early 2019 offered consistent and coherent testimony.

Their accusations against Zanchetta were corroborated by the eyewitness testimony of eleven other seminarians. Four additional seminarians didn’t see the abuse, but heard it about it from eye-witnesses at the time.

The accusations were further corroborated by the office employee who found gay pornography and naked selfies on Zanchetta’s phone in 2015, as well as by this man’s co-worker, and by Zanchetta’s chauffeur.

Zanchetta had tried to pressure the employees not to testify. On the stand, the chauffeur said this:

Bishop Zanchetta behaved as if he were God… I have worked for the Church for twenty years. I understand the authority structure. But it’s not blind obedience. Sometimes you cannot obey.

Francis and Zanchetta

As we noted before, Pope Francis–while he was still Cardinal Bergoglio–received documentary evidence of Father Zanchetta’s dishonesty, back in 2011.

In 2013, Argentine Catholics spiritually wounded by Zanchetta begged the new Pope Francis not to elevate such a dangerous man to the rank of bishop. And in 2015, Francis received, via hand-delivery by a Cardinal, a thumb drive with the gay porn and naked selfies inadvertently found on Zanchetta’s phone by the office employee.

Zanchetta, however, continued to abuse seminarians with impunity for two more years. He regularly told his victims that he was an untouchable “friend of the pope.” He told the seminarians that he had “talked with the pope about them.” He said, when returning from Rome, that “he had been in the pope’s bed.”

(Apparently Zanchetta used this last expression figuratively, to indicate great closeness, rather than literally. The seminarians took it that way–that is, figuratively.)

The priest in charge of the seminary had become aware of Zanchetta’s crimes and sought relief through ecclesiastical channels. There were also apparently serious financial irregularities–like with Bransfield and McCarrick. None of Zanchetta’s misuses of money have ever been fully disclosed (like with Bransfield and McCarrick). But there is a pending Argentine court case about the money.

Zanchetta suddenly resigned from office in mid-2017, “for health reasons.” Pope Francis transferred him to a position in the Vatican.

In the spring of 2019, the pope gave a long interview that I have cited here before. In that interview, Pope Francis defended how he had handled the Zanchetta affair. He said that Zanchetta had a strong answer to the charges against him. But he conceded that a Vatican trial was needed, and the wheels of justice were turning, and people just needed to be more patient.

More patient? The pope gave that interview three years ago.

In the meantime, Zanchetta stepped away from his Vatican position because of the investigation into his conduct, then returned to his position. The Vatican never censured Zanchetta in any way. Nothing about his Vatican trial has ever been made public–that is, made public by the Vatican itself.

In his defense before the Argentine court, as the court document outlines, Zanchetta maintained that the charges against him all stemmed from a plot, concocted by his enemies among the priests of the diocese. They disagreed with his decisions as bishop, so they conspired to destroy him.

“The accusers have not spoken on their own,” Zanchetta insisted. “There is something behind them.”

Zanchetta accused his ‘enemies’ among the clergy of violating their solemn promise of obedience.

He then added, regarding the charge that he had entered seminarians’ bedrooms without permission, “The bedrooms of seminarians are like the bedrooms of the children in the parents’ house.”

[That’s the sound of steam coming out of my ears, dear reader.]

Zanchetta also told the court:

In the canonical investigation, it became clear that the charges of sexual abuse against me were induced by the angry priests.

Now, regarding this canonical investigation…

1. As noted above, Pope Francis said it was underway three years ago. The following year, Zanchetta’s canon lawyer told a reporter that the process was “almost over.”

2. The Argentine court repeatedly asked for the Vatican’s findings. The judges in Argentina did not want to begin hearing witnesses until they had the Vatican documents, so they waited.

After almost two years of waiting, they finally gave up and started the trial without anything from the Vatican. Then, while the hearings were underway, a portion of the Vatican Zanchetta dossier arrived.

3. The pages that came contained canonical testimony given by seminarians and former seminarians in the aftermath of Zanchetta’s 2017 resignation.

(One of the seminarians who corroborated the accusers in the Argentine court case was actually one of the accusers in the canonical case.)

The Argentine judges found that the seminarian testimony in the Vatican dossier lined up with the testimony they heard in court, so they counted the Vatican pages as an additional proof of guilt.

The Argentine judges rejected Zanchetta’s defense. In their document, the judges point out the numerous implausibilities implied in the defense theory.

Why would former seminarians, who now have no connection with the Church, perjure themselves as part of some intra-Church feud? And how could so many perjuries cohere so well in painting a clear picture of Zanchetta’s sexual abuses?

Also, if the man really needed so many neck and back massages for health reasons, why didn’t he go to a masseur? Or a doctor?

Zanchetta maintained in his defense that the victims waited too long to go to the police. But the judges point out in their analysis: hadn’t the seminarians tried to communicate up the chain of command in the Church, but to no avail? Hadn’t they given testimony in a canonical process, only to see their testimony covered up by the Vatican?

As we noted at the time, the court found Zanchetta guilty and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison. This happened on March 4.

The incumbent bishop of Orán (Zanchetta’s successor) released a lame ‘apology’ to the victims, full of euphemisms. The Argentine Bishops’ Conference did, too.

From the Vatican: total silence.

The day after the verdict, Zanchetta’s canon lawyer, who had been sent to Orán by the Vatican, gave a press conference. He insisted that there was in fact a plot against Zanchetta, and the bishop is innocent.

So it seems like there is only one way to interpret the total Vatican silence of the past three weeks :

The canonical trial exonerated Bishop Zanchetta. He was found not guilty. (According to canonical rules, that would mean that there would be no further public reference to the case.)

But now the Argentine court has produced a thorough written record demonstrating the man’s guilt, with both overwhelming evidence and careful legal reasoning–itself based on Catholic principles. The soundness of the Argentine court’s work shows clearly how unsound the Vatican’s pretense of justice has been in this case.

Granted, this last part is purely speculation on my part. But if the Vatican had found Zanchetta guilty of anything, we would know. If the canonical trial were still underway, we would know.

No. They exonerated him. A predator guilty of ruining at least a dozen priestly vocations. And guilty of alienating God-only-knows-how-many Catholics from the Church.

Pope Francis mate.jpg

Why has Pope Francis never visited his homeland?

For five centuries, we had Italian popes. When they stepped out onto the St. Peter’s loggia, they were already in their homeland.

Then we had a Polish pope. He went home, to a hero’s welcome, during the first year of his papacy.

Then we had a German pope. He went home, also to a hero’s welcome, within four months of his election.

Now we have an Argentine pope. After nine years, he has not visited Argentina, and has no plans to do so. (He has visited Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru.)

When a law firm investigated Pope Benedict’s record in dealing with sexual abuse in his homeland, they found significant ethical lapses and cover-ups.

What, O God, would a team of investigators find in Argentina? Are there enough thumb drives in the world to hold it all?

More on the Pope-Emeritus’ Record

For decades in Munich, sexual assaults by clergymen went unreported and unpunished. The victims of these heinous crimes remained unacknowledged and invisible, their lives wounded by the violence they had suffered.

It was a human-rights catastrophe of the highest order. (And this happened, of course, not just in Munich, but apparently in every Catholic community on earth.)

Last month we considered the report that a team of Munich investigators prepared, intended to cast light on this catastrophic period of secret human-rights violations. At the Archdiocese’s behest, the investigators focused their study on the decision-making of the Archbishops.

The report included information from Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI’s tenure as Munich Archbishop. We conducted a point/counter-point about how to understand the information in the report.

Pope Benedict New Evangelization

Now the Vatican has published the pope-emeritus’ legal team’s official rebuttal of the Munich report.

The rebuttal is, as they say, slim pickings. But it still manages to be brazenly dishonest, in three ways.

1. At a now-infamous meeting that took place in January of 1980, Cardinal Ratzinger agreed to welcome Father Peter Hullermann into the archdiocese. Prior to that fateful date, Hullermann had already sexually abused at least one, and likely three, minors. He would go on to abuse many more, over the ensuing decades.

The Ratzinger-team rebuttal published last week insists that, at the meeting in January 1980, Cardinal Ratzinger did not decide to employ Hullermann in pastoral work. Rather, Hullermann was simply accommodated in a parish rectory, so that he might undergo psychotherapy in Munich.

The rebuttal’s implication here is this:

Ratzinger never agreed to anything dangerous, as far as exposing minors to sexual assault, because “at the meeting it was not decided to engage the priest in pastoral activity.”

But this implication is patently dishonest. Any priest resident in a parish rectory is ipso facto involved in pastoral work, unless the bishop explicitly prohibits it.

Every Catholic who has ever practiced the faith in a big city, with student priests living in it, knows: Priests living in parish rectories, even if not assigned as pastor or parochial vicar, nonetheless celebrate Masses and hear confessions on a regular basis. From the point-of-view of the Catholic in the pew, the resident priest is simply another priest. Just as likely to be invited over for dinner, just as likely to be granted access to vulnerable minors.

To avoid this, the Archbishop would have had to forbid that Hullermann celebrate the sacraments. Explicitly forbid it. Ratzinger certainly did not do that.

Okay, maybe things were different in Munich in 1980 than they have been in every other big city with Catholic parishes that I have ever been in, in my life? If so, then forgive me for making a false charge here.

But if Munich was like any other place, then this Ratzinger-rebuttal implication is pure b.s.

Ratzinger put Hullermann in a position to prey on additional victims. That is the simple fact.

Francis and Benedict

2. We discussed before how the pope-emeritus’ team previously insisted that Ratzinger was not at the January 1980 meeting when Hullermann was welcomed to Munich.

But then the investigators produced the minutes of the meeting, which prove that the Archbishop was, in fact, there.

The rebuttal published last week tries to paint a picture. The Ratzinger team had to operate under supposedly difficult circumstances. They had to process large amounts of information during a short time period. Therefore, they made an honest mistake about the meeting.

Now, I don’t think we will ever know for sure whether it was an honest mistake or not. Perhaps it was.

But the picture the Ratzinger team tries to paint is itself fundamentally dishonest.

The fact is, it was the investigators where were working with unfamiliar documents, trying to understand material that was new to them. None of it was new to Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger was there when it happened in the first place. He was directly involved. He was fricking in charge.

Let’s remember why the investigation occurred: Human rights violations happened on a shocking scale, in secret, for decades. The investigators were not on the inside at the time; they sought information they did not have.

When those investigators seeking information first contacted the pope-emeritus, asking him to contribute his memories to their study, he could have replied:

‘Look, I’m an old man now. You’re asking me about things from over half a lifetime ago. I have not retained any records myself, and my memory is clouded by the years. I don’t have much to contribute to the record at this point.’

That would have been a perfectly reasonable response. But Ratzinger and his ‘friends’ did not respond that way. Actually, they did, at first. But then they changed their minds. The pope-emeritus insisted that he had clear memories and could contribute information that would make the record more complete. Great.

But you can’t say, on the one hand, ‘Yes, I can give you information that you don’t have. Send your questions,’ and then say, ‘You gave me too much information to deal with in too short a time.’ As if you never heard anything about any of it before. As if it were all new material to you.

No. It was your own daggone life, Your Holiness. Your own decisions.

Benedict Francis kneeling

3. The Ratzinger-team rebuttal asserts that:

As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse.

The reasoning behind this assertion is: The investigative report acknowledges that it has no proof one way or the other about what Ratzinger knew about the criminal acts of his priests.*

* That is, during his time as Archbishop. Remember: some of the criminals’ cases eventually made it to Rome, and Ratzinger then served as the competent Vatican official, or as pope. The investigators asked about what he learned while in Rome, and the pope-emeritus categorically refused to answer those questions.

And yet one of the ‘friends of Ratzinger’ has the temerity to call Pope Benedict XVI “the father of transparency.” Come on.

Anyway, the report concludes that Ratzinger probably knew at least something about Hullermann’s criminality (as well as other criminal priests.) The report has evidence supporting that conclusion, including testimony from parishioners at a parish to which Hullermann was assigned while Ratzinger served as Archbishop of Munich.

All that said, the investigators acknowledge that they have no certain proof.

As cited above, the rebuttal insists, therefore, that, in the absence of such proof, we must conclude that Ratzinger knew nothing.

That would be our necessary conclusion–if this were a criminal case, and we were jurors with the authority to put Joseph Ratzinger in jail.

But that is never what the investigation was. The report is an honest attempt to bring to light the facts. The facts of a long-term, secret human-rights-abuse catastrophe.

The investigators asked the pope-emeritus to participate as a source of information, not as a criminal defendant. And yet Ratzinger and his team have acted, from beginning to end, as if the man were a defendant on trial.

This confirms, rather than weakens, the report’s conclusions. To this day, Ratzinger makes the whole thing about himself. His long-time secretary Georg Ganswein says that Benedict’s enemies cooked up the report to destroy his legacy. Mind-blowing small-mindedness and narcissism.

last-judgment

When the Vatican published the Ratzinger-team rebuttal, they also published a letter from the pope-emeritus. In his letter, the aging Benedict expresses his hope that he will meet a friend as judge, after he breathes his last.

Indeed, we all must hope for that. Otherwise, we are doomed.

But Ratzinger was no friend to the innocent and defenseless young people who suffered at the hands of criminal priests in Munich. The investigators have brought to light many, many facts that lay hidden for decades.

The most-charitable interpretation of those facts, when it comes to Joseph Ratzinger, is this: He was too self-important and ambitious to be bothered with such details as whether or not his priests were dangerous criminals. To this day he wants to cover that fact up.

May the Lord have mercy on him for it.

John Allen vs. David von Drehle + Update from the Gulag

Couvent des Jacobins de Toulouse - Autel de St Thomas d'Aquin
Tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas, Toulouse, France

Six hundred fifty-three years ago yesterday, a solemn procession carried the bodily remains of St. Thomas Aquinas into the French city of Toulouse. They deposited his bones in the Dominican church there.

I will visit St. Thomas’ tomb and pray for you, dear reader. I leave shortly.

Before I depart, I present a consideration of various opinions about the Munch, Germany, sex-abuse report, which we discussed here on Wednesday

The Vatican has published an official defense of our pope emeritus’ record. It insists that we must credit Pope Benedict for leading a “reform.” Yes, there was a bad period in the past, but that is now over, largely thanks to the pope-emeritus.

Some Catholics have even managed to convince themselves that the aged Benedict is suffering persecution for the true faith. An Italian Cardinal has called the charges against Ratzinger “absurd.” Cardinal Ruini insists that the pope-emeritus suffers not because of real wrongdoing, but because of his convictions.

Benedict Passion of Christ

But hold on. Did the Lord Jesus wear a crown of thorns because honest investigators asked Him about violent crimes, and He refused to give clear answers? Did He undergo His bitter Passion because He told the Pharisees He had not attended a meeting–a meeting He did in fact attend, as He later had to admit?

In the context of the Munich sex-abuse report, I find the pastiche image above–which some Catholics are circulating–to be genuinely offensive.

Joseph Ratzinger never suffered a sexual assault, as a child, by a priest. (At least not as far as we know.) The suffering Victim for our salvation does not identify Himself at this moment with career ecclesiastical bureaucrats.

No. The Lord comes to us with the tear-stained faces of of the survivors of sexual violence, men and women who struggle daily to survive.

At this moment, Pope-emeritus Benedict lives a perfectly secure life, protected from harm by both a legal and a physical wall. He has no one on earth to whom he must answer (except his own conscience, of course.)

Leaving aside the unacceptable foolishness of identifying Benedict with the suffering Christ, let’s do a more-serious comparison of points-of-view.

On his weekly podcast, long-time Vatican correspondent John Allen gave his own take on the pope-emeritus situation. Allen’s summary mirrors the official Vatican position.

On the other hand, David von Drehle has carefully followed the pope-emeritus’ statements about the abuse crisis, and he has published a trenchant essay about the situation as it stands now.

Here’s my summary of the point/counter-point:

I. On Wednesday, we briefly considered the question of Father Gerhard Gruber’s responsibility for the Munich pastoral assignments of the criminal pedophile Father Peter Hullermann. Gruber was Vicar General, or second in command, during Ratzinger’s tenure as Munich archbishop.

As we mentioned, the controversy over Gruber’s responsibility for Hullermann’s pastoral assignments arose during Benedict’s papacy. The German press made the decades-long Hullermann cover-up a matter of public knowledge in the spring of 2010.

In his analysis of the situation, John Allen takes it as settled that Gruber accepted full responsibility for assigning Hullermann, “leaving Ratzinger with esstentially clean hands. Ratzinger personally had nothing to do” with making a known pedophile a Munich parish priest. At least that’s Allen’s conclusion.

The record, however, is not as clear as Allen would have us think.

On April 8, 2010, Gruber wrote to the brother-priests of his community, some of whom had criticized the Munich Archdiocese press office. Regarding the official statement of the Church about him, Gruber wrote:

The expression ‘on his own authority,’ which was made public by the press officer, had not been discussed with me, and annoyed me deeply, because the ordinary reader may misunderstand it as a misuse of office instead of understanding it as ‘in the mandate of that office or position.’

This does not strike me as a clear acceptance of full responsibility. It certainly does not leave you with certainty that Gruber’s superior–Ratzinger–“personally had nothing to do with it,” as Allen put it.

Then add the evidence that the Munich law firm has published, which we covered in detail on Wednesday. That evidence makes it very difficult to conclude that Ratzinger did not know about the danger  Hullermann posed.

unbornThis makes the 2010 affair look quite different. Gruber may very well have been a helpless pawn in a larger Church public relations maneuver, aimed at protecting Pope Benedict’s reputation.

That very same spring of 2010, Pope Benedict wrote a letter to the Church in Ireland, about the abuse crisis. I quoted that letter extensively, when Ireland voted to allow abortion.

But I feel like a fool for quoting Benedict’s letter so lovingly, because it looks like utter hypocrisy now. He took the Irish bishops to task for doing exactly what he himself had done when he served as a diocesan bishop.

If the full truth published in the Munich report had come to light that spring of 2010, it would have caused the complete collapse of the moral authority of the papacy in Europe. Which gives the Vatican and the Munich chancery a very likely motive for throwing Gruber under the bus then, to protect His Holiness.

Back to the point/counter-point. Allen concedes this much, regarding the recent Munich report…

I do think we have to say that when he was Cardinal Archbishop, with a diocese to run, [the pope-emeritus’] management suffered from the same deficiencies, the same holes, the same breakdowns, when it comes to the protection of children, as pretty much every other archbishop in the Catholic Church of that era. That remains a sad and distressing truth of the Catholic Church.

Von Drehle, on the other hand, puts this same truth a little more honestly:

Everyone with open eyes can now see that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church never underestimated the problem of priests as sexual predators. They weren’t taken by surprise. Church leaders have known for decades exactly how vast the issue was, how all-consuming, from the humble parish all the way to the top in Rome…

It is a sadly familiar story: secret conclaves of men in collars, flouting the laws of one nation after another to shuffle the abusers and launder their crimes…

The church knew about the abuse of children — as it was happening. Church leaders knew which priests were guilty and knew that abusers were a threat to abuse again. Covering up these crimes was no impediment to advancing in the hierarchy. Compromised bishops became archbishops. Compromised archbishops were crowned as cardinals. And Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope.

II. The nub of the controversy, I think, has to do with the pope-emeritus’ record since the supposed “bad old days.”

Allen articulates his understanding–which mirrors the Vatican line–like this:

Remember Pope Benedict’s track record on sexual abuse. The reform began, in most ways, under Pope Benedict. The legal changes, and the practice of swift laicization of abuser priests–weeding abusers out of the priesthood–began under Benedict. So aggressive did it become that, during one year alone during his eight-year papacy, almost 400 abuser priests were laicized.

From Pope Francis on down, everyone involved in the reform will acknowledge that it began and gathered steam under Pope Benedict. Given all that, there is no basis to conclude that Pope Benedict was ever a willing co-conspirator in the cover-up of child sexual abuse.

Glittering assertions, to be sure. But I for one will not accept them without some independent verification of their veracity.

No clergy sex-abuse survivor I know has any sense of any “reform” having happened.

And how do we know anything about Benedict “weeding abusers out of the priesthood?” All those records are secret. The Munich law firm asked the pope-emeritus about the laicization procedures of the criminal cases it studied. Benedict refused to answer those questions. (Just like the Vatican refused to answer questions from an Irish study commission in 2010.)

Even if you concede Allen’s assertion here, though, von Drehle makes an observation about this line of defense:

Defenders of the indefensible argue that Ratzinger was tougher on abusive priests than his predecessors, both in his service as head of the Curia department responsible for discipline in Rome and as pope from 2005 to 2013. But this misses important context. Ratzinger’s long reign over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith coincided with the gradual unraveling of church secrecy. He had no choice to take more action than the passive prelates who came before. The walls were caving in.

Indeed. If American journalists like Jason Berry and the Spotlight team had not uncovered some of the secrets, would the supposed Church “reform” have happened at all?

What we have learned these past four years strongly suggests that it would not have.

The pattern repeats itself over and over again. The hierarchy keeps everything secret. If the press gets hold of something, promise new policies to control the p.r. damage. Then proceed to ignore those policies.

canon law codex canonici

I received a letter from my bishop, Barry Knestout, earlier this week. He informed me that he has “suspended” his pursuit of charges against me for 1. disobedience and 2. inciting hatred against the hierarchy.

I take this as good news, and continue to pray for better days to come. Now that the process is no longer an active legal matter, let me inform you of what happened. 

At the indictment that took place on October 29, 2021, Bishop Knestout and his judicial vicar told me the following:

1. One person caused the diocese to receive a lot of criticism. Namely, me.

When Bishop Knestout publicly defamed me in a homily and in the Martinsville newspaper; when he removed me as pastor; when he suspended my priestly faculties indefinitely for blog posts he didn’t like; when he received scores of letters begging him to reconsider his hasty actions–one man deserves the blame for all of that. Me.

And it’s up to me to repair the damage.

They added:

2. My entire two-decade priestly career has been marked by a profound psychological instability. I have reacted wrongly to difficult circumstances over and over again. I have divided the faithful by speaking openly about secret matters.

And this interior malady of mine must be cured before I could ever receive another assignment.

For my part, at the indictment, I made a brief declaration of my innocence of the charges made against me. I apologized again for my mistakes and for reacting intemperately sometimes in 2018 and 2019. I promised to reconsider my blog posts of that period, taking them out of circulation in the meantime, as I mentioned here in early November.

I remain hopeful. I love the Church and the priesthood, even while continuing to dwell here in the ecclesiastical gulag.

But von Drehle gives us a good reality check. It’s not just me saying it. Von Drehle concludes his assessment of the situation as it stands now like this:

Catholic schools provide some of the world’s best education. Catholic hospitals care for the sick. Catholic charities feed and clothe the hungry and cold. All these good works are done, increasingly, by lay leaders — not by priests. (Though there are certainly some very good men in the priesthood.)

Enlightened lay Catholics increasingly understand that looking to a priest, or a bishop, or even a pope for guidance and moral example has been a dangerous mistake. Generations of those men have brought the church to its greatest crisis in some 500 years — and they cannot solve the problem of credibility and accountability for one simple reason.

They are the problem.

Pope Benedict XVI–the Man Behind the Curtain

Card. Frings and Joseph Ratzinger

Our then-Archbishop, Theodore Card. McCarrick, participated in the April 2005 conclave that elected Joseph Ratzinger pope.

I remember how elated I was. Ratzinger the pope! I asked the older priests I lived with at the time if we could share a bottle of champagne that evening before dinner.

We didn’t. They were neither pleased by the election, nor amused by my request.

champagneWe know now, of course, that McCarrick’s case was hanging fire in the Vatican in 2005. It had been hanging fire there for nearly a decade. The file already had multiple denunciations for sexual abuse in it.

We also now know that after Benedict took his seat in the Chair of Peter, McCarrick sent the new pope a gift of $200,000 cash.

A year later, in May 2006, McCarrick had reached the mandatory age of 75, and he retired as Archbishop of Washington. He began his new life as a full-time Cardinal diplomat, with no public declaration of any kind about his many ecclesiastical and civil crimes.

Fast forward fifteen years: An investigator working on the Vatican McCarrick report questions the now-retired Pope Benedict about McCarrick’s 2006 transition from Archbishop to globe-trotting Cardinal.

Benedict insists to the investigator that he had sent a “clear message of disapproval,” by secretly insisting on McC’s timely retirement as Archbishop, rather than allowing him two extra years in office.

Wait. “Clear message of disapproval?” Clear to whom?

Ratzinger Bergoglio and JPII
Pope John Paul II and Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

Joseph Card. Ratzinger served as Archbishop of Munich, Germany, from 1977 to 1982. Then he became a Vatican official, then the pope.

Last week, a Munich law firm released a report they had prepared for the Archdiocese of Munich. The firm studied the archives of the archdiocese, from 1945 to 2019, in order to 1. identify criminal sex-abuser priests, and 2. consider how the archdiocese dealt with those priests’ cases.

The Munich report will benefit our Church tremendously in the long run. Like the French CIASE report, this report will help to facilitate a full encounter with the Catholic criminal-sex-abuse cover-up, one of the greater evils ever perpetuated by human beings.

The Munich report tackles the problem with a uniquely helpful approach: It assesses the decisions made by Church officials, measuring those decisions by the officials’ own rhetoric. That is: we as a Church stand with Christ on the side of the weak and suffering.

Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros
Camille Biros and Ken Feinberg

The Munich report is the total flip-side of our American “Reconciliation Programs” coin. Our own Reconciliation Program here in Richmond, like others done here in the US, involved an outside law firm studying the Church’s archives and identifying cases of sexual abuse. We paid out millions of dollars, just like the Archdiocese of Munich did.

But otherwise the two approaches to the problem are like photographic negatives of each other:

–In Munich, the lawyers gave the victim survivors’ the benefit of the doubt and doggedly cross-examined the Church officials. In our program, we did the opposite.

–In Munich they produced 1,900 pages of illuminating information for the general public. Here we produced 0 pages.

Benedict Francis kneeling

Friedrich Card. Wetter succeeded Ratzinger as Archbishop of Munich. He read the Munich law firm’s report over the course of the past few days. From the nursing home where Wetter lives, he made this statement:

I only became aware of the fatal consequences that abuse inflicts on children in 2010. I had not had a serious and thorough discussion up to that point. I didn’t deal with the perpetrators with the necessary severity. I have not lived up to my responsibility.

Indeed.

The Munich report covers the cases of dozens of criminal priests. The law firm, however, decided to single out one case for extra research. They came to regard this particular case as an emblematic instance of the long-term cover-up typically practiced by Church officials. The report calls it “Case 10.” It is the well-known case of Father Peter Hullermann.

I have referred to Father Hullermann here before. The German magazine Der Spiegel told his story back in 2010.

In 1979, as a young priest on a parish camp-out, Hullermann forced an 11-year-old boy to give him oral sex.

At that time, Hullermann belonged to the German diocese of Essen. The boy’s parents complained to the Church, and when diocesan officials confronted Hullermann, he admitted what he had done. He consulted with a psychotherapist in Essen, who referred him to another therapist, in Munich.

(No one, of course, told the police about the crime. Actually, I should say crimes, because Hullermann likely did the same thing on at least two other occasions between 1977 and 1979.)

Now, if you are a careful Vatican-news watcher, you know that our pope-emeritus made an official statement yesterday regarding a meeting in Munich that took place on January 15, 1980. He acknowledged yesterday that, ‘Yes, I actually did attend that particular meeting.’

Seems like a random thing to acknowledge, out of the blue. Certainly a 94-year-old retiree might have a hazy memory of events from half a lifetime ago. Maybe not such a big deal?

Anno Fidei inauguration Benedict XVI

Actually, it’s a very big deal. Here’s the context:

At the meeting in question, the Munich “Ordinariate”–that is the governing Church officers–agreed to accept Hullermann as a transfer from Essen.

The bishop of Essen didn’t just neglect to inform the police; he also did not fully inform the officials in Munich about Hullermann–at least not in writing. He had a statement from the victim’s parents, as well as the Essen psychologist’s report, but he did not send those documents to Munich.

The Essen bishop did, however, indicate in a letter to Munich that Hullerman posed a “danger.” That January 1980 letter sits in the Archdiocese of Munich’s files, marked as cc’d to the Archbishop.

Hullerman went on to abuse many more children during his decades of priestly service. A civil criminal court convicted him in 1986, but gave him a suspended sentence. The Munich Archdiocese kept him in ministry until 2010. (Hence Cardinal Wetter’s apology above.)

Last fall the Munich law firm working on the report repeatedly wrote to pope-emeritus Benedict, confronting him with the facts of Hullerman’s 1980 transfer from Essen to Munich.

They also confronted him with facts about Hullerman’s move a year later, from one Munich parish to another, after talk of sexual acts with children at his first Munich assignment.

And they confronted Benedict with questions about 2010. In that year, the priest who had served as Ratzinger’s right-hand man in 1980 took the full blame for the cover-up, when the Hullermann story hit the press.

Benedict claims to have no memory whatsoever of Hullermann. He claims he never saw the letter from Essen indicating a danger (even though it’s marked as received by his then-office.)

Now, again: one might sympathize with a 94-year-old retiree having to answer questions about a meeting that took place during the Carter administration. But this was no cold case.

As I mentioned, Der Spiegel covered the whole thing in 2010, as did other German periodicals, and the New York Times as well. The question of Benedict’s role in Hullermann’s career sat squarely on the Catholic-news front burner.

We can safely say this: Joseph Ratzinger’s reputation in  Germany rests on his involvement in the case of Father Peter Hullermann. And he knows it.

In a letter Benedict sent to the law firm in December, our pope-emeritus insisted: not only did he know nothing of Hullermann, he had not been present for the January 15, 1980 meeting at which Hullermann’s transfer to Munich was approved.

[NB. I have undertaken to translate pertinent sections of the Munich report into English. Not perfect, but serviceable. Click HERE to access the on-line files.]

But then Benedict faced a problem this month. The law firm has the minutes of the January 1980 meeting. Those minutes prove beyond any doubt both that 1. Benedict was present at the meeting and 2. he had personally spoken with the bishop of Essen about Hullermann, twice (at least).

In other words: Ratzinger, caught in a lie.

Back in 2019, Benedict published an essay about the sex-abuse crisis. He made a dishonest statement in that essay. He blamed the “Sexual Revolution of 1968” and its effect on children for the “extensive collapse of the next generation of priests.”

But..

1. This chronology is at least a decade off. In his essay, Benedict laments explicit sex-education in the 1970’s. But Hullermann and his contemporary priest-criminals were already adults by then.

2. The sexual revolution, for all its many faults, never led to the widespread acceptance of pedophilia. Some extreme libertines have argued for free sex between adults and minors, but Western society as a whole has always rejected this. Since the advent of Christianity, we have considered the sexual abuse of a child to be a damnable crime.

That is, all of us have thought that, except our bishops and popes.

The Munich report concludes that Ratzinger knew that Hullermann posed a danger, and did nothing about it. If this is true, Joseph Ratzinger owes a lot of people a personal apology, and whatever reparation he can muster.

Is the law firm wrong, and Benedict isn’t lying? He really knew nothing about one of his priests–a priest that all the other diocesan officials knew was a serial pederast?

That would actually probably be even worse. A shepherd that clueless actually became the freaking pope? Seriously?

The law firm takes no position on the question of whether or not the Vatican and the Munich chancery pressured the right-hand man from 1980 to take all the blame in 2010. There isn’t enough evidence to come to a conclusion about that.

But that lack of evidence has resulted from Benedict’s own recalcitrance. Here is our pope-emeritus’ repeated response to all of the law firm’s questions touching on anything that happened after the early days of 1982:

That question does not pertain my service as Archbishop of Munich, so it lies outside the scope of your inquiry.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchOur “transparent” Church.

I remain a committed conservative Catholic priest. I love the Catechism with Ratzinger’s imprimatur more than just about anything in the world.

But I was wrong when I wanted to drink champagne on the evening of April 19, 2005. I thought it was a happy day. It wasn’t.

Indianapolis Talk

Heading to Indy to give a talk on Saturday, sponsored by Corpus Christi for Unity and Peace. Thank you, dear Vicki Yamasaki, for inviting me.

Here’s the text, if you’re interested. I believe the talk will be recorded and made available on YouTube.

noah-covenant

The Scandal in the Church

Everyone familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Near the beginning of the book, the Catechism explains the “Stages of Revelation,” the moments in history when God has “come to meet man,” to “reveal His plan of loving kindness.”

The Catechism highlights the covenants between God and man that occurred between the creation of heaven and earth and the coming of Christ. Anyone know what those two covenants are?

1. The covenant with Noah, after the flood, and 2. the covenant with Abraham, the forefather of the Israelites.

Pretty important to our Christian faith, these dealings between God and Noah, and between God and Abraham. We read about it all in the book of… Correct, Genesis.

It would certainly seem to pertain to our Catholic faith that we believe that these things really happened, right? Not that we reject the science of geology or paleontology. But we need a way to understand the Holy Scriptures as fundamentally accurate regarding these ancient covenants. Right? After all, they prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchIt seems crazy to some people, but we Christians have the idea that you can read the Bible and learn things, things that make life mean something.

Not that our faith in the Word of God gives us the answer to every question; the Bible doesn’t claim to answer every question. But we know that we cannot understand the meaning of life, without being able to read the Holy Scriptures. And believe what we read.

Now, you may be wondering: Why the heck is this man talking about this? I mean, it sounds great, but.. Why talk about the early chapters of Genesis right now?

One reason I am here is to tell you my story. I thought it might be good to start with December 2001, just over twenty-one years ago, a couple months after 9/11. As Christmas break approached that year, I had managed to pass my comprehensive seminary exams, and I had one semester left before ordination to the priesthood. But then the rector of the seminary told me that I was not welcome back after Christmas. Continue reading “Indianapolis Talk”

Spain Follow-Up + Answering CIASE Criticisms

Shepherd One
Shepherd One, where El País handed over the info

The Spanish newspaper El País has collected testimony from well over a thousand victims of clergy sex-abuse. Earlier this month, one of the reporters presented 385 pages of information to Pope Francis. On Sunday, El País made all of this public. The paper added: The Vatican and the Spanish Bishops’ Conference will investigate all the cases.

I expressed some misgivings about El País’ confidence in an ecclesiastical investigation. On Monday, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference confirmed my skepticism. The Spanish bishops published a defensive, less-than-honest press release. They referred to a “lack of rigor” in El País’ investigation. The bishops offered multiple justifications for not investigating anything.

Juan Cuatrecasas, president of the Stolen Childhood victims’ association reacted with outrage:

That these gentlemen speak of rigor is offensive. Let them interview each victim in that report and tell them face-to-face, looking in their eyes, that what they say is not ‘rigorous.’

Speaking of embarrassing ecclesiastical defensiveness, I promised to consider the criticisms that a group of French Catholic intellectuals have made against the comprehensive report on sex-abuse published in October–the Rapport Sauvé, or CIASE report.

Jean Marc Sauve CIASE France abuse

The CIASE report gathers the testimonies of sex-abuse survivors; it reviews the records of dioceses and prosecutors; and it reports the results of an on-line survey of the general population of France, about sex-abuse.

Based on these various sources of information, the report estimates that 216,000 young people have been sexually abused by French Catholic clergymen, since the 1950’s.

The French-intellectual critics insist that this staggering total cannot be supported by the information that is actually available. They point out that the percentages garnered by the on-line survey are too small to be extrapolated from, since they are smaller than the margin of error.

This is, no doubt, a valid point, in and of itself. But it is not a convincing criticism in this case.

First, because the CIASE report freely acknowledges that the extrapolated total does not tally easily with the hard data collected by other methods of investigation. CIASE estimates a maximum of 3,200 abuser clerics during the time period. To reach a total of 216,000, the average abuser would have over 60 victims–not a conclusion that is easy to feature, as the CIASE itself acknowledges.

The critics insist that the CIASE should have reported 24,000 victims, starting with 3,200 abusers and multiplying by the CIASE’s own estimate for average number of victims per criminal, which is 7.5.

But this would disregard altogether the insight given by the on-line survey of the general population.

Let me put it like this: the Catholic intellectuals’ criticism here is unconvincing because:

1. 24,000 victims is itself a staggering number.

2. The problem might not be that the total of 216,000 is too high, but that the estimate of 3,200 criminal clergy abusers is too low.

3. 216,000 actually fits reasonably into the overall picture of sex-abuse in France:

5.5 million French people have been sexually abused in childhood, since 1950. (This number is not in dispute.) If only 216,000 of those 5.5 million were abused by Catholic clergymen, that actually makes the incidence of Catholic clerical sex abuse lower in France, as a portion of total sexual abuse, than in other largely Catholic countries.

The critics dwell on the admittedly uncertain total estimate because they want to dispute the CIASE’s conclusion that sex-abuse of minors is a “systemic” problem in the Catholic Church. The Catholic intellectuals accuse the CIASE of inflating the number in order to shock the public into accepting the idea that the problem is systemic, without any further debate on the point.

Again, an unconvincing criticism, because: Even if the CIASE total is significantly off, would that somehow make the problem less ‘systemic?’ If there are actually only 108,000 victims, wouldn’t that still be a systemic problem? Or even if we stuck with the number that the critics themselves suggest–24,000. Isn’t that total enough to justify the conclusion that there is a systemic problem?

The criticism of the estimated total seems more like a quibble intended to obfuscate the matter, rather than an engagement of the real issues at hand. The clear fact is: criminals have hidden in the Catholic clergy for decades, in order to prey freely on minors, and then go unpunished for it by their superiors. Something definitely needs to be done about this. The question is not if something needs to be done; the question is what.

Charlton Heston Ten Commandments Moses

The critics further obfuscate the matter by trying to play both sides of the sexual-morality issue.

On the one hand, the critics rightly point out: It is precisely the teaching of the Church that tells us just how wrong the criminal sexual abuse of minors is.

This is true, and amen to it. No one has ever suggested that it would solve the Catholic sex-abuse crisis if the Church stopped teaching that sexually abusing minors is wrong and a sin.

But then the critics bring up the fact that, in the 1970’s, some prominent Frenchmen, including the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, publicly proposed that pedophilia be de-criminalized. It was part of the crazy ‘sexual revolution.’

Pope Benedict XVI Castel Gandolfo good night

(Pope-Emeritus Benedict used another version of this same argument in his unconvincing 2019 essay on the sex-abuse crisis.)

The critics then go on to suggest that the thinking of the 70’s influenced the Catholic clergy of the time–even though it contradicts perennial Church teaching, not to mention the basic moral instincts of the human race.

But if this were, in fact, true–namely that Jean Paul Sartre & Co. managed to confuse the French clerical establishment about sexual morality–wouldn’t that actually suggest an even-more-serious systemic problem in the Catholic Church in France?

The criticisms outlined so far, however, are all secondary issues in the dispute between the Catholic intellectuals and the CIASE. The central point of conflict is this:

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurch

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers an image to explain the role of the clergy in the life of the Church. We clergymen exercise sacred ministry in persona Christi capitis. In the person of Christ the Head.

The whole Church of the baptized = the mystical Body of Christ. But we ordained clergy operate in the person of Christ the Head of the Body.

Now, not even Protestants say that this is out-and-out wrong. After all, you can’t have a community without leaders. Plus, in the Church, the leaders do something unique. We give Jesus Christ to the community.

That is something no human community could ever give to itself. The Son came from the Father, not from Europe, or Africa, or Asia. God incarnate was born of the Virgin in Bethlehem, in an altogether unique event. And that’s where this unique thing called the Church started.

All that conceded, the CIASE nonetheless recognizes: The image of in personal Christi capitis–used to identify what a Catholic clergyman is–it may be a necessary image, but it is still dangerous. The idea can be cruelly exploited, with disastrous consequences. The justifications that have been used to exploit the image must be identified clearly. And unequivocally condemned.

We read in the Rapport Sauvé:

The Commission believes that it is necessary closely to examine the hierarchical constitution of the Catholic Church in view of the internal disagreement concerning its own understanding of itself: between communion and hierarchy; between apostolic succession and synodality; and, essentially, affirmation of the authority of preachers and the reality of grass roots practices which are increasingly influenced by democratic practices.

Granted, these ‘discussion points’ require a vast range of reflection on the part of us Catholics. There are no immediately evident ‘action items’ here.

But who could deny that we do, in fact, very much need to reflect carefully on these very points? I myself have been meditating daily on these ‘internal tensions’ in our religion for the past three years. And it has done me an enormous amount of good.

But the French-intellectual critics of the CIASE can only dismiss this thoughtful recommendation with a sniff. They write: “We can hardly see what practical approach can be suggested by this motley enumeration.”

Motley? How about: Profound, insightful, and deeply challenging–for good reason.

canon law codex canonici

The critics then proceed to poke holes in the CIASE’s concept of ‘reparative justice’ for sex-abuse survivors. The critics explain–with perfect plausibility–that the legal systems now in place, both civil and canonical, cannot be used to obtain the outcome that the CIASE envisions, because the cases are mostly too old.

Again, in their defensiveness, the critics only manage to beg the question. One of the CIASE’s contentions is, in fact, that the canon-law system we now have is inadequate to deal with the problem.

To conclude. In their essay, the CIASE’s critics make a fundamental mistake, the same mistake made time and again by well-meaning Catholics facing the sex-abuse crisis. They see an enemy, where a friend is actually trying to help.

Again, it all seems painfully familiar to me. So let me make a distinction, when it comes to “enemies” of the Church.

Publicly to “incite hatred or animosity” against the ecclesiastical hierarchy, or to “provoke disobedience against them”–this is a crime under canon law, punishable by severe penalties.

But isn’t this canon missing a necessary qualifying phrase? For a real crime to occur, wouldn’t the criminal have to intend to damage the Church?

Without this qualification, the law runs the risk of criminalizing virtuous acts. What if a bishop or pope does something unjust, or even criminal? Was it a crime against the Church when one of McCarrick’s victims went to a journalist in the early 2000’s, to try to get his story out–after he had been brow-beaten and gas-lighted by multiple prelates?

The Chancellor of the Diocese of Dallas, Texas, recently published an article interpreting the canon in question here (canon 1373). Chancellor Caridi tsk-tsks public critics of the hierarchy and suggests that we deserve penal sanctions. He writes:

The Church is not an institution instilled with the values of self-governance or a right to protest.

But wait. Isn’t this a straight-up contradiction of the teaching of all the post-Vatican II popes? Don’t we Catholics think that it is precisely our Christian vision of the human person that has given rise to the realm of free speech, open debate, and freedom of conscience that we have traditionally called “the Western world?”

We believe that the magisterium of the Church delivers to us the truths of Divine Revelation, in which we put our absolute faith. But that doesn’t mean that prelates cannot err in their acts of governance. There is no charism of infallibility when it comes to governance.

When it comes to clerical sexual abuse, our prelates have erred in governance–as a body–so grievously, and over such an extended period of time, that reasonable, good people have lost confidence in their judgment.

If open debate about this evident fact results in penal sanctions in the Church, that does not serve good order or Church unity. To the contrary, it only serves as further proof of ecclesiastical misgovernment.

 

Spotlight Comes to Spain?

(Netflix has a documentary on abuse in the Church in Spain.)

When the Holy Father flew to Cyprus two weeks ago,* a reporter from the Spanish newspaper El Pais approached him. The newspaper had spent three years collecting the testimony of survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Spain. The reporter handed the pope 385 pages of material.

(*The pope removed Michel Aupetit as Archbishop of Paris while on the same flight.)

This morning El Pais published this fact, as well as this news: supposedly the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, along with the Bishops’ Conference of Spain, will now investigate all the cases that El Pais collected.

Ok… <Ahem> We will see what actually happens.

Just last month, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference rejected a proposed investigation into sexual abuse in the Spanish Church. The bishops’ spokesman insisted, “There are only a few cases.”

(El Pais has uncovered 1,237, certainly just the tip of the iceberg.)

Also, the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Spaniard, recently hid behind a diplomatic technicality in order to avoid a French subpoena. Cardinal Ladaria had advised the then-archbishop of Lyons, France, to “avoid all possible scandal” in dealing with the serial pedophile priest Bernard Preynat. The Lyons archbishop then faced criminal charges for cover-up and had to resign.

One of Preynat’s victims, Francois Devaux, recently said of Pope Francis: “He is losing all legitimacy because of his terrible lack of judgment. This gentleman should reread the Gospel.”

So El Pais‘ idea that these same gentlemen will successfully “investigate” anything leaves you wondering. Perhaps, however, the publication of all this information will lead ultimately to the creation in Spain of something akin to the CIASE in France.

El Greco Nativity

On the day that our Lady gave birth to our Lord in Bethlehem, the world swirled with plagues, cruelty, and spiritual confusion. But she held in her heart this longing: that God’s truth, His eternal love, would unite the human race in the unbreakable bond of holy communion.

We need to go spiritually to the exact same place. Our Church, as a world-wide institution governed by compromised men, will continue to appear to the eyes of most people for what it certainly is, considered from one point-of-view: a long-term criminal conspiracy.

But She has a center of gravity much more profound than the machinations of the mitered men. She has Her place immediately next to the manger. She will always have that place, and that’s where we belong.

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.

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?”

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: