Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Pedophile Scandal

Pope Benedict XVI
(Image from Wikipedia)

Ross Douthat has a recent, topical column on the current Pope and his troubled Church in the New York Times, "The Better Pope" -- meaning better than Pope John Paul II. Douthat acknowledges that Benedict is not untouched by the scandal over pedophile priests, but he has some kind words to say about Benedict as reformer, a role that I was unfamiliar with:
[T]here's another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.

The church's dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul's friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter's Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel's Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul's inner circle.

Only one churchman comes out of Berry's story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money "for his charitable use" [opera carita, "an elegant way of giving a bribe"]. The cardinal "was tough as nails in a very cordial way," a witness said, and turned the money down.

This isn't an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church's haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel's conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.
We might find these these things admirable -- these actions by Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI -- even if too little, too late, given the dimensions of the pedophile scandal, but these are things that we should also know and consider in arriving at a judgment on the current Pope.

Some might argue that the crucial questions about Pope Benedict XVI are like those posed about President Nixon during the Watergate scandal: "What did he know, and when did he know it?"

But I think that there's a third question to be asked: "When did he have the power to act upon what he knew?"

He certainly knew something about the case of Reverend Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, for "[i]n 1998, eight ex-Legionaries filed a canon law case to prosecute . . . [Delgollado] in then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's tribunal." But little happened for six years. According to Jason Berry's report, "Ratzinger told a Mexican bishop that the Maciel case was a 'delicate' matter and questioned whether it would be 'prudent' to prosecute at that time."

That sounds horrible to us looking back at the extent of the pedophile scandal that is shaking the Catholic Church, but consider this:
Maciel had the staunch support of three pivotal figures: [Cardinal Angelo] Sodano[, Vatican secretary of state from 1990 to 2006]; Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish secretary of John Paul. During those years, Sodano pressured Ratzinger not to prosecute Maciel, as NCR previously reported.
A generous reading of Ratzinger's inaction is that he was biding his time until he had gathered the power to act effectively. I suspect that we will learn more on this issue in the next several months.

A less generous reading of inaction on this pedophile issue might prompt one to pose a fourth question: "Why didn't somebody of importance see the problem clearly, recognize the need to act, and step outside the ecclesiastical bureaucracy to cry 'J'accuse'?"

Short answer: That calls for more courage than most of us have.

Long answer?

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At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a balanced and clever guy. I have studied Ratzinger's life and work and all I can say is he is the man who actually changed around the whole sexual abuse thing when he at last got the "power" to do so in 2001, four years before he became pope. It is a supreme irony that he is now spat on by the media. Terribly unfair, to say the least. For those who have the true facts it is also mind boggling to see how journalists distort the truth of the so called three "cases" against him that are now dredged up. To reach the truth one has to search the web, something very few people, apart from many Catholics, will do. Try Google "phil Lawler" for a concise explanation of the media's latest allegation case against Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. Or better still, go to the blog of the Anchoress at "First Things" magazine.
Thanks for your thoughtful reflections!

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the kind words and suggestions. I'll certainly take a look at the sites noted.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:14 PM, Blogger Annael said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:21 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suspect that some of these problems could be avoided by giving up on celibacy and allowing priests to marry.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And there's always...



At 10:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Blimey, JK! What a suggestion!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:11 AM, Blogger Annael said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:23 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, of course I realize that married men can be pedophiles, but I wonder if a celibate priesthood might create more sexual problems.

I also suspect that a more democratic church structure could offer greater safeguards.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:06 PM, Blogger Annael said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 7:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sifer Anel, I'm not sure if I agree or disagree, but we've probably said enough on this particular issue.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:11 PM, Blogger Annael said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I was puzzled to discover that Sifer Anel had deleted his comments, including a final one:

"So you have decided that we have said enough on this issue! Okay, you are a balanced and clever guy indeed. And may you thank me for the kind words and suggestions."

I am sorry that I offended him, for that wasn't my intention. I thought that we had reached a point where there wasn't much more to say.

Anyway, thanks Sifer Anel, for your comments.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole pedophile priest thing has not even begun to be told. Ignored are the thousands of Native Children's bodies buried in mass graves in Canada(, and eyewitness testamony as to atrocities, beatings,starvings, and of course,sexual abuse.While most assume that this was done during prior eras, the fact is that the majority of Aboriginals living today have had horrific experiences in the so called Residential schools and that pedophile priests were floated in and out of Canada to the United States where they continued to likewise. Thus this can't simply be a "few" pedophile actions, but rather many. In one case an entire "brotherhood" was known to be abusing kids, and even selling them to pedophiles and for scientific experiments.Infantcide to destroy evidence of raped young girls was also witnessed. The corruption of this matter is long standing and overdue. One reason U.S has been so "favorable" in it's handling of the Church/pedophile cases is that it touches upon the genocide issue.Destroying the children was part of the plan in Canada with a 50% death rate. Although raping little girls occured, the male to male offenses statistically outnumber the female to male , or male to female offenses. Let this story come out, the church be healed, and the racial and sexual healing begin.

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, this is an issue that I know nothing about, but since it overlaps enough with the topic of this post, your comment and its link can stand.

Jeffery Hodges

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