The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"They've Summoned Up a Thundercloud": "Command and Coercion" in 2016

You know, I was really hoping my 2012 Command and Coercion: Clerical Immunity, Scandal, and the Sex Abuse Crisis in the Roman Catholic Church could become irrelevant to the news. But, as John Allen reports at Crux, my thesis remains depressingly relevant:
Given what a cancer the clerical sexual abuse scandals have been for the Catholic Church, one would imagine the Vatican would want new bishops to get a state-of-the-art presentation on best practices in terms of preventing such meltdowns in the future.

The Vatican has been running just such a training course since 2001 for newly appointed bishops around the world, and almost 30 percent of the Catholic prelates in the world today have taken it.

It’s more than a bit surprising, therefore, to discover that at least last year, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the body created by Pope Francis to identify “best practices” in the fight against child abuse, was not involved in the training.


The presentation was entrusted to French Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a consulter to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, who’s based at the Coll├Ęge des Bernardins in Paris. He’s a psychotherapist controversial for his views on homosexuality and “gender theory.”

Although his presentation was long on therapeutic analysis, Anatrella did a credible job of slogging through components of the Code of Canon Law governing clergy accused of sexual crime with a minor.

In other ways, however, his presentation seemed seriously wanting. For instance, Anatrella argued that bishops have no duty to report allegations to the police, which he says is up to victims and their families. It’s a legalistic take on a critical issue, one which has brought only trouble for the Church and its leaders. Why, one wonders, was it part of a training session?

Most basically, canonical procedures kick in only after abuse has been alleged. Presumably the goal ought to be to stop those crimes from happening, and in that regard it’s striking that Anatrella devoted just a few paragraphs to abuse prevention, using abstract language without concrete examples.
Let's not bury the lede: The instructor of the Vatican training course on sexual abuse is teaching bishops that "bishops have no duty to report allegations to the police, which he says is up to victims and their families."

From the Guardian:
A document that spells out how senior clergy members ought to deal with allegations of abuse, which was recently released by the Vatican, emphasised that, though they must be aware of local laws, bishops’ only duty was to address such allegations internally.

“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” the training document states.
Even in the age of Pope Francis, it seems, the twin imperatives of "command and coercion"--a phrase I plucked from the writings of John Henry Newman, where they were used approvingly to describe the Church's duty to suppress even truthful information where necessary to maintain faith in the Church's authority--and of clerical independence from secular law, the dubious cause in which Thomas Becket died, and which was perpetuated in canon law to at least 1984, though there is reason to believe it remains substantially undisturbed, still hold sway.

So, clearly the scandal is far from over. Which means, damn it, that I can't leave it behind. You have to understand, writing the article had the exhilarating impetus of having stumbled across something that had not been, until I wrote about it, explored in legal historical writing. Just about all of the legal historians of clerical immunity--"benefit of clergy" as it is commonly called, through "benefit of the forum," or "privilegium fori" is more accurate, describe its rise and fall from the perspective of secular law's willingness to honor it, not the Church's insistence on it, and its use of canon law to enforce it. Even the great R.H. Helmholz and Leona C. Gabel tell the story that way. So, C&C was satisfying to write--I found a small piece of the puzzle of why good men could become complicit in terrible deeds.

But that's done. Now, if I pursue it further, it'll be working out the ramifications of the canon law process, and mostly a hard slog through the unpleasantness of violated lives and vows. But how can one let it go, when, the story continues, continues seemingly along the lines I wrote on?

So, I'm dusting off C & C, and additional research materials I received after its publication, and seeing if I can re-work it into a more expanded treatment.

How I wish it wasn't needed.

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