Pope Benedict XVI - Catholics like me have been insisting these past weeks on TV and radio - is a key part of the solution to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, which is why the media attempt to scapegoat him is so misguided. Indeed, what has surfaced from the recent firestorm is how providential it was that Pope John Paul put then-Cardinal Ratzinger in charge of abuse cases from 2001. But what is also becoming clear by the day is how much he has struggled against a mentality at the top of the Roman Curia which manages, at times, to live up to every sceptical media stereotype.
Cardinal Bertone's misguided remarks on homosexuality and paedophilia were one instance. But far more shocking is the revelation of a letter sent by Darío Castrillón-Hoyos, the Colombian cardinal who until 2006 headed the Congregation for the Clergy, to French bishop Pierre Pican, congratulating him for not turning over to the police an abusive priest later jailed for 18 years for raping children. (See Reuters ).
It was a notorious case at the time: the auxiliary bishop, who received a suspended three-month jail sentence for failing to report sexual abuse of minors, admitted in court he had kept Fr Rene Bissey in parish work despite the fact the priest had privately admitted committing pedophile acts. The case shocked France and prompted its bishops to declare that all abuse cases must be reported to civil authorities.
"I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration. You have acted well and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest."
Consider the letter's date: September 2001. Pope John Paul II's motu proprio insisting that all credible abuse accusations against priests be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was issued in May that year.
The Vatican's statement in response to the revelation was swift and well-judged. "The document is another confirmation of how timely was the unification of the treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith", said Fr Lombardi yesterday.
In effect, says John Allen, "the Vatican statement suggests that Castrillón Hoyos's attitude was part of the reason that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ... pressed for a more aggressive policy on the removal of predator priests".
A glimpse of that attitude was on vivid display in an April 11 interview that Cardinal Castrillón-Hoyos -- who along with Cardinal Law (formerly of Boston) is one of the leaders of the movement behind the restoration of traditionalist liturgy -- gave to the Spanish-language CNN. My translation:
“As prefect of the Congregation for Clergy I had meetings with scientists. And there was one group of scientists who said that the paedophile doesn’t exist; there exist persons who commit acts of paedophilia, but the illness of paedophilia doesn’t exist. So, when one person makes a mistake, which is often a minimal error, that person is accused - that person confesses his crime, or is shown his crime -- the bishop punishes him according to what [canon] law allows: he suspends him, takes him out of a parish for a time, then sends him to another parish. He is correcting him. This is not a crime, this is not a cover-up, this is following the law just as civil society does in the case of doctors and lawyers – in other words, it’s not about taking away the chance of them exercising their profession for ever.”
So you mean, asks Patricia Janiot, that for the Church sex abuse of minors is not a crime? Castrillón-Hoyos loses his rag in a flash of arrogance.
"Patricia, for the love of God, don’t you understand what I'm saying? Am I speaking a foreign language? I’m talking in Castilian. The Church punishes paedophilia as a very serious crime – do I have to repeat this a thousand times? -- but punishes it according to the law. The fact that it is a serious crime does not authorise a bishop to punish without following the processes to which the accused has a right."
When Janiot asks him about those processes, the cardinal talks about the need for corrobative evidence and witnesses but quickly adds that even when these exist, "when you factor in the enormous sums of money which are benefitting large numbers of people in relation to these crimes, we all have the right to question the honesty of those cases.”
Janiot then asks him whether, if Pope John Paul II had acted more decisively to clear up the mishandling of abuse cases, Pope Benedict would not have inherited such a large problem. Castrillón-Hoyos is having none of it.
"Pope John Paul did everything he should have done, and did so within the clearest norms of justice, charity, and of equity, – he did exactly what he should have done to maintain the purity of the Church. He did exactly what he should have done. I am witness to his worries and his pains. It is very easy to have news stories about cases which have not proved in which the image of the clergy is far from reality – this does not mean that there have not been painful cases in the Church; he knew of them, and he punished them. Show me one single case – I challenge people – one known case anywhere in the world where a case has been proved where the delinquent has not been punished."
"What about the case of Fr Maciel?" Janiot answers. "This was never brought to justice. He died, never having been tried."
Cardinal Castrillon's eyes look sharply to the left, to where an advisor or lawyer is obviously sitting. He then turns back to the camera. "Non ti rispondo", he answers (in Italian, oddly). The interview is over.
This astonishingly unedifying display shows why, even while Rome cannot be held responsible for local Churches' failure to disclose clerical sex abuse cases to the police, it could at times help to foster the mentality that was disposed against that disclosure.
The message, at least from the head of the Congregation for the Clergy until 2006, was to regard "paedophile acts" as minimal mistakes, to doubt the veracity of evidence brought against priests, and to regard a bishop who turned over an abusive priest to the police as betraying his "son".
Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday that the excoriating media coverage gives the Church a chance to repent.
At a Mass broadcast on Vatican Radio he said that "we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word 'repentance,' which seems too harsh. Now under the attacks of the world, which speaks to us of our sins, we see that the ability to repent is a grace, and we see how it is necessary to repent -- that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life".
But there is one more step to take: to name what is wrong. It's what Castrillón-Hoyos displays so vividly.
Its name is clericalism.