The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Well, Isn't That Special?

I have to admit the ability of the Catholic Church to feel put-upon is a constant source of incredulity to me. From Pope Benedict and the Vatican itself, to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the refrain seems to be the same: Damned liberal media.

Seriously, who'd these guys get to craft their defense, the Coasters?

Let me address this one very simply: If you claim to be the one true faith, the one true church, and then spend half a century systematically covering up child sexual abuse, it's a story. Too bad. The gap between ideals and performance is always going to sell papers, and you don't get to complain, since you like telling people how to live and even how to vote. As the eminent philospher says, "the greater the power, the greater the responsibility."

More substantively, Abp. Dolan links the Vatican statement denying that "a relationship exists between the application of ‘Crimen sollicitationis’ and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither ‘Crimen’ nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities."

This is interesting, because when in 2005, the Guardian reported on then-Cardinal Ratzinger's 2001 letter continuing Crimen Sollicitacionis, the Vatican declined to comment, saying "'This is not a public document, so we would not talk about it." (You can see my earlier post on the matter here; note that I used the Guardian's spelling; I'm now employing Abp. Dolan's. And abbreviating it as "CS").

Anyway, the back-and-forth on the document's impact is perhaps somewhat unclear, but the skeptics of the Church's view seem to me have pretty good corroboration that it was understood as requiring silence on the part of the victim. First, Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland, who has acknowledged that when he was 36, he participated at an inquiry pursuant to CS at which "the boy and the girl [complainants] were required to sign affidavits swearing that they would not talk to anybody except priests given special permission by the tribunal hearings, known in church parlance as “ecclesiastical proceedings."

This reading of CS is further corroborated by the Dublin Report into the Irish Church's experience chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy. Murphy's Commission reported that the Vatican refused to provide any documents or testimony to the inquiry, so the Vatican deprived tself of a chance to elucidate the issue. However, after much study, it issued an exhaustive report. The Times of London (linked above, two back) summarized the Commission's findings regarding the church's policy as follows:

Ratzinger’s letter was relying on crimen sollicitationis, a set of procedural laws first issued in 1922 and updated in 1962. One of its requirements is that any person making a complaint of abuse against a priest is required to take an oath of secrecy.

Breach of the oath can be punished by excommunication. The document, exposed in a BBC Panorama documentary by clerical-abuse survivor Colm O’Gorman, deals with what it calls the “worst crime”, child sexual abuse. The main difference between the 1922 and 1962 versions is that the second one extended its remit to members of religious orders.

According to the Dublin report: “It appears that both documents were circulated only to bishops and under terms of secrecy. Each document stated that it was to be kept in the secret archive to which only the bishop had access. The commission has evidence that the 1922 document was known to senior figures in the archdiocese of Dublin, especially during the time of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, and that, in the words of one witness, it was a ‘well-thumbed’ document.”

The commission found that the document was used by McQuaid in the case of Fr Edmondus, who abused Marie Collins and other patients in Crumlin children’s hospital.

Regrettably, between the Vatican and the evidence falls the shadow.

At least the Coasters were amusing:

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