28 Nov 2010

Pope's passive apology fails to admit personal responsibility for protecting pedophile priests instead of children

National Post - Canada March 27, 2010

Robert Fulford: Mistakes were made. Boys were abused

In his recent letter to Irish Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI remarked that one cause of the sexual-abuse scandal was a fear of scandal itself. “A misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church” apparently caused bishops to hide the monstrous crimes of priests and leave them unpunished.

That was last weekend. On Thursday, The New York Times reported that court papers filed in a suit against the diocese of Milwaukee indicate that the Pope himself committed precisely that error. In 1996, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, heading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he declined to challenge a priest who had molested perhaps 200 deaf boys in his care. The priest died in 1998 without official stain on his record. He was buried in his priestly vestments — a scandal in itself.

In writing to Ireland, the Pope expressed a generalized “shame and remorse that we all feel” in response to sexual crimes against children. He said nothing about his connection to the Milwaukee case or a German case that has thrown another shadow across his record.

His letter, which deserves careful study, demonstrates the way language often reveals more than a writer intends. The writer says one thing but the prose conveys something else. The Pope’s letter, on a subject so dangerous it appears to be eroding the status of the Church, betrays his mood: anxious, insecure and defensive.

In the Vatican’s official English version, the letter’s most obvious quality is the persistent use of passive verbs. As every book on prose makes plain, the best writers favour transitive verbs (“John cheated Joan”) and avoid, so far as possible, the passive voice (“Joan was cheated”). The first way makes the meaning clear; the second obscures it by ignoring the identity of the person responsible. The passive encourages evasion.

Again and again, the Pope uses the passive voice and clouds his meaning. While he notes that priests committed crimes and bishops failed adequately to punish them, a reader of the letter is left with only a sketchy idea of what happened. What was actually done? By whom? How often? The Irish must look elsewhere for specific information.

“Grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred” is a typical passive phrase from the text. He mentions “the problem of abuse that has occurred” and “the serious sins committed against defenceless children.” Addressing victims and their families, he writes, “Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated.” Again, by whom?

The Pope’s language changes sharply when he moves from the present to the past. Listing the historic achievements of the Irish Catholics, all the way back to the establishment of monasteries in France and Italy by St. Columbanus (540–615 CE), the Pope adopts a notably active voice. He says Celtic monks “spread the Gospel in Western Europe and laid the foundations of medieval monastic culture”; The Church “provided education, especially for the poor”; “Generations of missionary priests, sisters and brothers left their homeland to serve in every continent.” Yet such active verbs are scarce pretty much everywhere else in the 4,600-word letter.

The Pope’s vagueness undercuts his reassurances. Without providing details, he says the Church has made serious progress in dealing with pedophiles. Since the gravity and extent of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions “first began to be fully grasped, the Church has done an immense amount of work” to remedy it.

From that sentence an innocent reader might assume that the scandal appeared only recently. In fact, the first widely known case in the United States came to light 26 years ago; the perpetrator, a Louisiana priest who had been sexually exploiting little boys for about a decade, received a 20-year penitentiary sentence. More such crimes surfaced. They became an epidemic in the 1990s.

The Pope’s vagueness expands to cover modern history. Discussing possible reasons for the wave of sexual abuse, he says that Vatican II was sometimes misinterpreted. Is he saying that Vatican II had the effect of encouraging priestly misbehaviour? Can that be true?

In fact, the intimidating power of priests helped make the crimes of pedophiles possible. So the loosening of priestly authority by Vatican II should have made it easier for Catholics to speak the truth about their priests.

What it didn’t do, apparently, was persuade those in power to follow Christ’s teaching and protect the weakest members of the flock.

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National Post - Canada March 27, 2010

Pope Benedict at ‘crossroads’

By Charles Lewis

The Roman Catholic Church has been defending its handling of the pedophile priests in its midst for several decades — but at least up until a few months ago the murky waters of this scandal were at a safe distance from its popes.

Now with unproven media allegations that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope who was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, failed to remove clerics in both Germany and Wisconsin who were known as dangerous to children, the Vatican is facing a new level of crisis management.

Marco Politi, a veteran Italian Vatican journalist, told The New York Times Pope Benedict is now at a crossroads.“What’s extraordinary is that the scandal has reached the heart of the centre of the Church. Up to now it was far way — in the States, in Canada, in Brazil, in Australia. Then it came to Europe, to Ireland.

“Then it came to [Germany],” he said. “Then it came to his diocese, and now it’s coming to the heart of the government of the church — and he has to give an answer.”

Close observers of the Church say the Vatican, even the Pope himself, must take responsibility for those things that took place under its watch in order to preserve the institution’s moral authority.

Fr. Thomas Rosica of Toronto, a member of the Pontifical Council for Communications, said the thing not to do now is take a defensive posture.

The Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published a front-page editorial this week denouncing “the evident and ignoble intent to wound Benedict XVI and his closest advisors at any cost.”

“It’s not the best way,” said Fr. Rosica, who also runs Salt & Light, a Catholic television network. “They don’t understand the full impact of what’s happening [in terms of public perception].”

If underlings of Pope Benedict were made aware of abusive priests and did not act, whether the Pope knew or not, responsibility has to be shouldered, he said.

“A leader is responsible not only for things he actually saw but what was under his watch. The best possible thing that could come about now is the Vatican admits that an error had been committed, that oversight had taken place — and if that were to come from Benedict himself that would be very important.

“He could say, ‘Under my administration, under my watch, an error was caused that has come to light and we are deeply sorry for that.’ ”

Fr. Rosica added, “This issue has nothing to do with papal infallibility, it has to do with humanity and humanity has flaws and those flaws can cause grievous errors that can be sinful. We admit that, acknowledge that, and move forward.”

Fr. Thomas Reese, an American Jesuit scholar and an expert on the Vatican, said the Pope now has to make it clear zero tolerance for abusers is the law of the Church.

“If a priest is involved in one case he has to be removed from ministry forever. That would be a good start and it would show the Church takes this seriously.” He acknowledged Pope Benedict has grown in his understanding of the abuse crisis and has become an important force in the Church for tackling the crisis.

The Pope got rid of Marcial Maciel, the founder of the conservative Legionaries of Christ movement, because of accusations of sexual abuse, acting when John Paul II failed to act.

It was later revealed Maciel had fathered a daughter. He also made apologies to the American victims of abuse when he was in New York and recently wrote a letter of apology to Irish Catholics.

Fr. Reese said the Irish letter was important, but “it almost said too much” by seeming to assign some blame to liberalizations under Vatican II and the increasing secularization of society.

“In something like this, the only response [from the Pope] is to apologize and apologize and apologize,” he said. “You can’t blame the media or the culture or any of that nonsense. It’s just counter-productive and it makes the Church look like it’s trying to excuse this behaviour and that is disastrous.”

Fr. Richard McBrien, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, agrees the Pope has to go beyond letters and apologies to only specific regions of the Church where abuse took place. It has to be more “sweeping,” said Fr. McBrien, who added this latest scandal is eroding the Church’s moral authority.

“He has to ask for the resignations of bishops who moved predatory priests from place to place, thereby exposing children and young people to continued abuse — abuse that is not only immoral but criminal.”

Raymond Arroyo, the news director and lead anchor of Alabama-based American Catholic broadcaster Eternal Word Television Network, said to move past this the Vatican has to follow the basics of “public relations 101.”

The Vatican must use “transparency,” he said. It should collect all the facts, bring forward whatever is there.

“Then make the case he wasn’t involved or admit there was some knowledge and then apologize.”

But he also said the Vatican must work to shape the story.

“I’ve known Benedict for years and I know that he has been the most aggressive in getting rid of abuse. The problem is very few people know that.”

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The Vancouver Sun - AFP March 27, 2010

Pope at centre of child abuse storm

By Michele Leridon | AFP

VATICAN CITY - The child abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church homed in Saturday on Pope Benedict XVI, labelled the "biggest sinner" in one newspaper as the Vatican said his handling of the crisis would only strengthen his authority.

As allegations piled up of sexual molestation by priests in the scandal that has swept the United States and Europe, the media expressed shock and bewilderment in comments and editorials.

"How could the Catholics do such a thing?" asked Britain’s The Independent newspaper.

How could priests receive the host in communion "while raping children?" it wondered. "What was going on in their souls?"

In Spain’s El Pais, a theology professor remarked that the Roman Catholic Church was quick to link abortion with sin but had "difficulty doing the same thing when it came to sexual abuse committed by people dedicated to God."

A poll in Germany’s Stern magazine found falling confidence in the Church, standing at 17 percent from 29 percent in January, with faith in the pope down to 24 percent from 38 percent in the same period.

"The pope is surely the biggest sinner in the whole Catholic Church," one Swiss national was quoted as saying in the Tribune de Geneve newspaper.

But the Vatican — which dismissed a New York Times report Friday that Benedict had failed to act against in 1980 to stop a priest accused of sexually abusing children — said he would not be weakened by the crisis.

"The recent media attacks have without doubt caused damage," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told Italy’s ANSA news agency.

"But the authority of the pope and the commitment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the Church’s morals watchdog once headed by Benedit — against sex abuse of minors will come out of this not weakened but strengthened," he said.

The way the Church dealt with the issue "is crucial for its moral credibility", he conceded.

Some Catholics recalled a March 2005 statement the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made several weeks before taking over as pope on the death of John Paul II.

"How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to (Christ)," he wrote.

"Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side," he said, apparently mindful of offences that led him to initiate in 1981 a decree to keep paedophile priests away from children.

He was "the first to see the need for new, stricter rules" to attack paedophilia, said German Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in Corriere della Sera.

"The first concern is for the victims (...) we need a culture of care and courage, to clean up. The path we are on is irreversible and it is good it is that way," he said in an interview.

There may be a cleanout but no one expects anything too dramatic, said Italian journalist Sandro Magister, who specialises on the Catholic Chruch and the Vatican.

"At every controversy, some people try to propose total reform of the Church," he told AFP.

But the pope has already, for example, defended celibacy for priests after suggestions it may behind sexual frustration that results in abuse of children.

Germany’s Der Spiegel said the furore might force Benedict to resign, but that seems highly unlikely: the pope is appointed for life and in the past 2,000 years there have been only two resignations — in 1294 and 1415.

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Dublin Archbishop says apology not enough, criminal behaviour by priests must be prosecuted

Full text of Pope Benedict's so called apology to victims and survivors of Irish clergy abuse

A selection of responses to the Pope's "disgraceful deceit" and "pitifully inadequate" apology to Irish clergy abuse survivors

‘Apology? What apology?' Church’s attempt at reconciliation not enough, says counsellor

Pope expresses 'sorrow' for abuse at residential schools - but doesn't apologize

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts [book review]

Child sacrifice: a review of the documentary All God's Children - the ultimate sacrifice

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