The infamous New York Times launched a scud missile at Pope Benedict XVI. In an article replete with ad hominem and non sequitur fallacious arguments, the bible of the secular press engaged in nothing less than a total character assassination of one man. The heinous evil of sexually abusing children repulses every decent human being regardless of their religious, political or economic affiliation or situation. Nevertheless, the righteous indignation at a gross injustice and grave evil cannot succumb to the temptation to find a scapegoat. There are no simple answers to this complex problem. Child abuse is truly a diabolical evil but it has no boundaries. It is not a by-product of a celibate male priesthood since most cases of this horrid practice occur in the home by married laymen. Any instance is intolerable but the facts still remain that the overwhelming majority of child abuse is done by a parent, sibling or other relative. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, of approximately 772,000 child abuse and neglect victims in 2008, of the largest percentage of perpetrators, nearly 80% were parents of the victim, including birth parents, adoptive parents, and stepparents. Of the parents who were perpetrators, more than 90% were biological parents, about 4% were stepparents, and about 1% were adoptive parents. Other relatives accounted for an additional 6.5%, and an unmarried partner of a parent accounted for 4.4% of perpetrators.
The next groups of culprits were neighbors, teachers, coaches, scoutmasters and at the end of the line, clergy (of all denominations, Jewish, Protestant as well as Catholic). But the media does not report the crime IN CONTEXT. The public is led to believe this is a ‘Catholic’ phenomenon. This is supposedly a result of not having married clergy and no ordination of women, according to some. Yet, the facts prove that child abuse is done by both men and women, married and single, laity and clergy. Evil does not discriminate among its membership.
What is most outrageous is the tone and attitude of this article. Conjecture and supposition permeate it like cockroaches in a cheap tenement. It is a fact that a small minority of Catholic clerics engaged in reprehensible and vile behavior of robbing children of their innocence through sexual abuse. It is also a sad fact that some bishops made the conscious decision to transfer these deviants to other parochial assignments rather than isolate them from further potential victims. Why? If the NYT would have shown documentation proving that Rome had given orders to respond in this way, then they would have had a credible case. On the contrary, the Vatican issued the Code of Canon Law in 1917 and then a revised code in 1983 which gave a mechanism to identify, adjudicate and penalize offenders. The universal law of the Church applied to all nations, all dioceses, all bishops and all priests. Clerics who misbehaved were never given a green light to clandestine transfers in the dark of night. No bishop was told to hide pedophiles or cover-up misdeeds. Due process is part of Canon Law as it is part of civil law. No matter how despicable and putrid the crime committed, the accused is presumed innocent until PROVEN guilty.
Imagine what the New York Times would say if a policeman or FBI agent for that matter, arrested citizens purely on credible accusations and then sent them to prison without any trial whatsoever. Anyone, liberal or conservative, democrat, republican, libertarian or independent, would rightfully scream ‘foul.’ Innocent until proven guilty is the hallmark of American jurisprudence and the weight of argument falls on the prosecution not the defense. Once guilt has been ascertained (either by admission or by juridical trial) then proper penal measures can be enacted. Since canon law is based on ancient Roman Law, there is no necessity of reaching ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. Therefore, canonical trials which also do not require juries, can more expeditiously adjudicate than our civil court system.
The fact that some bishops did not utilize the due process or the diocesan tribunal is not the fault of any Pope. The law was there. The process was available. The sanctions could have been imposed. Why were they not and why was the choice made to apparently sweep matters under the rug? Many of us would like to know but it is illogical to infer that de facto it was the fault of the Roman Pontiff. He issued the Code of Canon Law which contains a juridical process and gives penal sanctions for offenses. If some refuse to employ those means, how does that incriminate the lawmaker himself? Unlike LBJ who could send troops to implement federal law banning racial segregation, the Pope cannot send Swiss Guards to reign in miscreant clerics or inept hierarchs.
The child sex abuse scandal is systemic. It is not isolated in a vacuum. According to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Report, most of the cases occurred during the mid-1960’s to mid-1980’s with sporadic instances before and after. Most culprits (68%) were ordained between the years 1950 and 1979. Pope John Paul II was chosen head of the church in 1978. Cardinal Ratzinger did not work for the Vatican in the CDF until November of 1981. The breadth and scope of the scandal, however, did not come to light until 1992 when many victims came forward with their tragic accounts. The abuses occurred before then and so did the response by local bishops. As an American, I feel some shame that my country had enslaved a whole race of people for over a century but at the same time, there is no culpability nor can there be any blame for those of us who were born well after the Civil War and the emancipation of African Americans. How then can Pope Benedict be blamed for actions or lack thereof when he was not Pope or even when he was not head of the CDF?
It cannot be forgotten that during this timeframe when most abuse cases took place, the predominant professional opinion among psychiatrists and psychologists was that sexual deviancy was curable and could be treated successfully. Bishops were led to believe that sex abusers could be healed. After sending some to treatment centers, and being given a bill of good health, these guys were often reinstated. They were told by many in the medical field that it was just like treating the alcoholic priest. What they all overlooked was that even alcoholism is never cured. One is always an alcoholic, just that a person is either sober or not depending on their treatment and strength of will. The struggle for sobriety never ends. Alcoholism is also more a physiological disease than a moral weakness. Whatever the causes of sexual deviancy, the culpability is much more pronounced and the evil much more pernicious.
The point is, however, that at the time much of the abuse took place, when a credible accusation came forward, many bishops acted in good faith and did what the general public did, trust in modern medicine. It is only within recent times that we have had Megan’s Law enacted to alert the public about child abusers living in our neighborhoods. Convicted, sentenced and released after serving their time, most people today realize this is not a treatable condition. That was not the common wisdom, though, fifty years ago.
During the period between the Second Vatican Council and the death of Pope Paul VI, the sexual revolution hit America and the world. The birth control pill was invented and casual, recreational, and unmarried sex permeated the culture. Homosexuality was take off the DSM as a disorder and deemed a lifestyle choice. Abortion became legal across the USA and dissent from Humanae Vitae ran rampant in Catholic colleges, universities and seminaries around the nation. In this fertile ground of moral ambiguity and the decline of marriage and family as the backbone of society, we find the preponderance of cases of sex abuse of children by clergy. Since priests are first laymen in the world, what infects the secular world will have an effect on candidates for the priesthood. The lack of moral conviction and the disdain for institutional discipline affected many people, even those who eventually entered service to the Church. There is NO EXCUSE for the misbehavior of anyone, let alone the satanic crime of abusing children. But we have to understand the environment and conditions which allowed this filth to nurture and grow. Bacteria likes a dirty location because it will thrive. So, too, for the spiritual infection we call sin.
There was a moral and spiritual malaise prevalent among many Catholics during the mid-sixties to mid-eighties. We had crackpot whackos celebrating Clown Masses and diluting doctrine to the point of irrelevancy. The banal and pedestrian worship of the time threatened not just reverence but orthodoxy itself, due to lex orandi, lex credendi. JP2 came along and did his best to open the eyes of the Catholic world to TRUTH. The truth that morality and faith and liturgy are intertwined and interconnected. The truth that human life is sacred. That human sexuality is sacred when contained within the boundaries of the sanctity of marriage. That the worship of God is not the worship of the ego, mankind, the culture or Mother Earth, but the adoration of the One, Triune God. That being good and doing good are not just goals but prerequisites to eternal happiness.
Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI are gifts from God to the Catholic Church and to the world. The attack on both their reputations is no surprise since Scripture itself warns us about the Devil being like a roaring lion seeking to devour. We are also assured that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Holy Mother Church OR the Vicar of Christ who was established by the founder to govern that institution in His Name.
The shameful and ugly crimes committed by a very small percentage of clergy (4%) is still unacceptable but at the same time cannot be ascribed as culpable to either JP2 or B16. Neither committed these dastardly deeds and neither covered them up. Both responded as they became aware of what was happening. Subsidiarity was a buzz word of the post-Conciliar church but it is a valid concept. Each bishop has to answer for his own diocese and what he did or did not do just as a pastor I am responsible for my parishes. We have a hierarchy and a chain of command but the Church is not the military and it is not a corporation. She is the Mystical Body of Christ and must work organically. We cannot blame the Pope for every violation and crime committed by individual members. Micromanagement was never promoted in the Gospels, Acts or Epistles of the New Testament.
Without incontrovertible documentation, it is slander and calumny to ascribe blame to Pope Benedict and worse yet, to infer a hidden agenda. As Cardinal Prefect of the CDF it was his job to reprimand promoters of heresy. His job was not to be the Attorney General of the universal church and be Church-Cop to the world. He was given the mandate from Christ to teach, sanctify and govern the Church but also to employ the assistance of the ordained to serve in the local area. We do not need more laws and regulations, rather we need those in authority to use the tools already available to them. We also need to be consistent and be as vigilant to eradicate and prevent child abuse from ALL areas, family, church, school, etc. The protection of the innocent is everyone’s business. Lining up firing squads and witch hunts are not viable solutions. Prosecuting the culprits in the proper manner is what a civilized people do. Recriminations and conjecture are not tools of justice.
Anthony Esolen is under attack by Providence College - I’ve mentioned Prof. Anthony Esolen quite often in these electronic pages. He is a serious scholar with a great pen. I’m usual struck with a little envy at...
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