The 1922 document that the NYT uses against Ratzinger and which is repeated in the 1962 document, Crimen Sollicitationis
was not about child abuse but about solicitation in the confessional -- something always known to be the CDF’s business, and conscientiously assumed by Ratzinger when it came his way. Ratzinger has rightly been criticized for his reactionary policies and his needlessly repressive and polarizing role toward liberation theology, theological research in general, and current thinking on issues of sexuality and reproduction. But this is not an excuse for liberals to subscribe uncritically to baseless rumors. So far he seems to be guiltless of all the charges made against him in connection with the abuse scandal. He has done the best he could, and it is not clear what exactly he should do to satisfy his critics, who seem to disagree fiercely among themselves; see:
It is true that there is a brief reference to abuse of pre-adolescent children in the last paragraph of the 1922 document (penultimate paragraph of the 1962 document). This is equiparated with bestiality and homosexuality under the heading: THE WORST CRIME. The final paragraphs have a tacked-on air:
71. The term crimen pessimum [“the foulest crime”] is here understood to mean any external obscene act, gravely sinful, perpetrated or attempted by a cleric in any way whatsoever with a person of his own sex.
72. Everything laid down up to this point concerning the crime of solicitation is also valid, with the change only of those things which the nature of the matter necessarily requires, for the crimen pessimum, should some cleric (God forbid) happen to be accused of it before the local Ordinary, except that the obligation of denunciation [imposed] by the positive law of the Church [does not apply] unless perhaps it was joined with the crime of solicitation in sacramental confession. In determining penalties against delinquents of this type, in addition to what has been stated above, Canon 2359, §2 is also to be taken into consideration.
73. Equated with the crimen pessimum, with regard to penal effects, is any external obscene act, gravely sinful, perpetrated or attempted by a cleric in any way with pre-adolescent children [impuberes] of either sex or with brute animals (bestialitas).
74. Against clerics guilty of these crimes, if they are exempt religious – and unless the crime of solicitation takes place at the same time – Religious Superiors also can proceed, according to the sacred Canons and their proper Constitutions, either administratively or judicially. However, they must always communicate a sentence rendered, or an administrative decision in those cases which are more grave, to the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office. The Superiors of a non-exempt religious can proceed only administratively. In the case where the guilty party has been expelled from religious life, the expulsion has no effect until it has been approved by the Holy Office. [This paragraph seems to have been added in 1962.]
These paragraphs are a very weak basis on which to hang Pope Ratzinger, since clearly no one took any notice of them, confining their attention to the chief topic of the document, the crime of solicitation. Fr Doyle comments on the 1922 text: “c.Three other sexual crimes committed by clerics were also to be investigated and prosecuted according to the norms of the instruction: same sex relations, sexual abuse of minors and bestiality.” The inclusion of homosexuality and the confinement of the reference to sex with minors to three words (“impuberibus cuiusque sexus”) ensured that this part of the document would remain a dead letter. Are those who make so much of it now going to be logically consistent and call for the CDF to prosecute same sex relations involving clerics in the same style as they call for pedophile offenses to be prosecuted?
A Commonweal editor greets the story as “damning”:
Mark Silk reports the NYT story as follows: “The Times’ revelation that the supposedly new regime put in place by Ratzinger in 2001 was in fact little more than a reassertion of norms set forth in a document quietly promulgated in 1922 and reiterated in 1962 is highly significant. It is now evident that the CDF all along had responsibility for all sexual abuse cases.” http://www.spiritual-politics.org/2010/07/nyts_non-hatchet_job_on_pope.html
This is quite uncritical. The alleged “revelation” is none at all. There is little evidence that the alleged “norms” ever had the status of effective law. A law that is not received in practice loses its validity, so that its “reassertion” really amounts to a new law.
Some sharp criticism of the NYT piece can be found from mostly conservative posters:
Sister Helena O’Donoghue has some excellent remarks in The Furrow, July-August, 2010:
“Integrity requires that we seek the whole truth and that takes time, analysis and patience. Issues in understanding child abuse like trauma, memory, addiction, naivety as well as deliberate wrongdoing and manipulation need examination. Sometimes these are labelled as excuses, but we ignore them at the peril of reducing humanity to a suspicion-led existence. The whole truth is always more than simple facts.”396
“Is the dimension of research missing from media commentary, and even from our State Inquiry system, resulting inevitably in thin, simplistic and sweeping findings on what was right and wrong in a past that is another country?”397
“Angela Merkel in Germany indicated recently she would only consider an investigation into child abuse if it applied to the whole society... Today the tilt is towards the 'court of public opinion', uninformed and volatile, led by high emotion, and by-passing the processes of natural justice... One injustice is not remedied by another and prejudice begets witch hunters. The call for further Church-only investigations has the whiff of inquisition about it”.397
“Is 'protecting the institution' automatically a crime? Plants, animals, and humans, all exist in systems. Humans cannot live without families, communities, groups... It is natural and subconscious that we protect them. This is not to deny need for reform. The key systems (family, Church, State) and their institutions hold us together socially, and each system still carries some patterns acceptable at another time but obsolete or objectionable today. Changing mindsets and culture is a gradual process and is the work of decades, if not of generations.”
“Righteousness cries out to 'name and shame' the culprit, and to make a public exhibition of the wrongdoer... The naming and shaming route strips people of their dignity, and undermines one's own claim to be treated with dignity”.399
The New York Times has a rather snooty piece defending its recent batch of stories that try to connect Pope Ratzinger personally with cases of child abuse. The defense reminds me curiously of the defensive statements from bishops that the New York Times would ridicule. The only difference is that journalists are more impervious in their stance of moral superiority than any bishop. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/25/opinion/25pubed.html
The original article by Laurie Goodstein begins by breathlessly informing us that “Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy was an American priest accused of molesting as many as 200 deaf boys over 25 years. Several lawsuits have been filed against the church for failure to act in the matter. According to church files top Vatican officials – including the future Pope Benedict XVI – did not defrock Father Murphy even though they were warned repeatedly by several American bishops.”
Chronology is not clarified, and then only for the benefit of the careful reader, until the 6th and last paragraph. Students of journalism are told to get the essence of their story out in the first paragraph, which is what most readers will read. The article left most readers with the impression that Benedict XVI had knowingly and deliberately failed to prevent a priest from molesting 200 boys (a speculative figure by the way), whereas a correct account would be that he may have been behind Cardinal Bertone’s refusal to have a canonical trial of the priest when he was dying 22 years later. But that would not make such a hot story. The BBC reported this in the same misleading way.
I am disappointed that so many progressive Catholics have jumped on a cheap media bandwagon, Hans Küng in particular.
I think it would have cleared the air if in his letter to the Irish Bishops the Pope had added the phrase, “I, too, have made mistakes.” But it should be noted that the Vatican does not admit any failures of the Pope before 2001 for the simple reason that Vatican critics have not proven any such failures. Those who spoke freely of “smoking guns” two weeks ago are now speaking of “indiators” — the characteristic step back when a rash accusation fails to stick. Küng’s rash declaration has been dismantled by many critics, and has not been seriously defended.
The Restorationist project of John Paul II and Benedict XVI is now dying, and “when a god dies, it dies by many deaths.” But if we contribute to the scapegoating dynamics of an angry mob, we are not nurturing the possibility that the period of collapse will be followed by one of renovation. We may soon find that the rage we have encouraged is turned upon ourselves.
Note that in intervening to get Cardinal Groer punished, Ratzinger seems to have stepped out of his own role in a quite unorthodox way. This does suggest that his anger about “filth” goes back a long way. Also, though I am highly critical of the document banning gay seminarians, it should be noted that it was one of the first acts of the pontificate, pushed through I am told by Benedict himself (not by Cardinal Grocholewski); it was a drastic and very unpopular step intended to abort one dimension of the abuse scandals; and the roots of that action on Benedict’s part must also go back a long way.
There is a painful irony here: those who acclaim Benedict as a purger of the church are often enthusiasts for that anti-gay-seminarian document, but they do not mention it for fear of spoiling their case. Those who denounce Ratzinger as a do-nothing are often also fierce opponents of his documents on homosexuality but they do not mention it for fear of spoiling their present polemical case. So, amazingly, the document has not been mentioned at all in the present controversy!
The rage against pedophilia follows ritual prescriptions that have been deconstructed by artists such as Thomas Mann and Benjamin Britten (Peter Grimes), psychoanalysts, and literary critics such as James Kincaid, but to which well-meaning progressive Catholics have subscribed in an uncritical and destructive way. There is now a fusion between this largely irrational hatred of the pedophile, as constructed in a panic-stricken imagination, and the irrational urge to “get” an equally demonized papal father-figure.
Childishly, progressive Catholics are even demonizing those who defend the Pope from false accusations, as if they were traitors to a glorious cause. The drumbeat of emotive ideological mutual brainwashing is actually weakening liberal Catholicism and eating away further the hope that when the ground is cleared for a renewal of the Church there will be mature and humane and rational people to provide new vision.