Sunday, March 14, 2010

Vatican rushes to Pope's defense against calumnious press

  • Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia) offers a roundup of recent events concerning the priestly sex abuse crisis:
    ... with the president of the German bishops due to hold crisis talks with his countryman-Pope tomorrow morning, Austria's senior churchman -- once the lead editor of the first universal catechism in five centuries -- calling for an "unflinching examination" of (among other things) priestly celibacy in the face of scandal (then seeking to row back the comment), the Holy See's own newspaper on an astonishing front-page tear and, even if not personally responsible nor implicated, the specter of revelations reaching to the august choir led for three decades by B16's own brother [Georg Ratzinger], it's safe to say that, as never before and all in a matter of days, the "Long Lent" wrought by the global reports of sexual abuse by clergy -- and, above all, its woeful mishandling by church institutions -- has landed on the Vatican's doorstep with a seismic, shattering thud.

  • the Vatican has provided extensive details of its handling of priestly sex abuse cases in recent years and has strongly defended Pope Benedict XVI against accusations of covering up such crimes -- the information was conveyed by way of an Avenire interview with Msgr. Charles Scicluna, an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who deals with cases of priests accused of abuse of minors. John Thavis (Catholic News Service summarizes the interview in the following points:
    1. The allegation that Pope Benedict covered up sex abuse crimes is “false and calumnious,” he said. As head of the doctrinal congregation, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger handled such cases with wisdom and courage, and as pope he has dismissed many priests from the clerical state.

    2. The Vatican’s insistence on secrecy in the investigation of these cases by church authorities does not mean bishops or others are exempt from reporting these crimes to civil authorities (a point made in our recent article on the same topic.)

    3. Since 2001, when the doctrinal congregation took over juridical control of accusations of sex abuse by priests against minors, it has processed about 3,000 cases, dealing with crimes committed over the last 50 years. About 60 percent of theses cases involved sexual attraction towards adolescents of the same sex, 30 percent involved heterosexual relations, and the remaining 10 percent were cases of pedophilia.

    4. Most cases have been handled without a church trial, because of the advanced age of the accused, and the penalties in such cases has usually been the imposition of strict limitations on the priest’s ministry. About 20 percent of cases resulted in a church trial, with most of the accused found guilty. In the most serious cases, about 10 percent of the total, the pope has dismissed the offender from the priesthood, and in another 10 percent the priest has been laicized at his request.

    5. The number of new cases of sex abuse by priests has declined; last year there were 223 cases reported from around the world. And while the majority of the 3,000 or so cases handed by the Vatican since 2001 have been from the United States, by last year U.S. cases had dropped to about 25 percent of the total.
    Read the full text of the interview here.

  • Fr Federico Lombardi SJ addressed the scandal in a note from the Holy See's Press Office:
    “For some months now the very serious question of the sexual abuse of minors in institutions run by ecclesiastical bodies and by people with positions of responsibility within the Church, priests in particular, has been investing the Church and society in Ireland. The Holy Father recently demonstrated his own concern, particularly through two meetings: firstly with high-ranking members of the episcopate, then with all the ordinaries. He is also preparing the publication of a letter on the subject for the Irish Church.

    “But over recent weeks the debate on the sexual abuse of minors has also involved the Church in certain central European countries (Germany, Austria and Holland). And it is on this development that we wish to make some simple remarks.

    “The main ecclesiastical institutions concerned – the German Jesuit Province (the first to be involved, through the case of the Canisius-Kolleg in Berlin), the German Episcopal Conference, the Austrian Episcopal Conference and the Netherlands Episcopal Conference – have faced the emergence of problem with timely and decisive action. They have demonstrated their desire for transparency and, in a certain sense, accelerated the emergence of the problem by inviting victims to speak out, even when the cases involved date from many years ago. By doing so they have approached the matter ‘on the right foot’, because the correct starting point is recognition of what happened and concern for the victims and the consequences of the acts committed against them. Moreover, they have re-examined the extant ‘Directives’ and have planned new operative guidelines which also aim to identify a prevention strategy, so that everything possible may be done to ensure that similar cases are not repeated in the future. [more]

  • As expected, some in the mainstream media are exploiting this as an opportunity to attack the Pope with scurrilous charges -- Tito Edwards (American Catholic) offers has the roundup, while Damien Thompson compiles Catholic reaction to a particularly vicious headline slander by the Times' Richard Owen, and Deacon Greg Kandra asks: "what did Benedict really do?" -- responding to a similar spurious allegation from blogger Andrew Sullivan.