Excluded From God’s People?

Question: Look carefully at this picture of assembled Catholic cardinals, and decide (carefully, now): Which of these, in terms of Pope Benedict’s own reasoning, are “excluded from God’s People”?


Answer: If you are to follow the line of reasoning of Pope Benedict himself, in his earlier incarnation as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the answer should be plain to see: all of them.

How so?

Read the rest of this entry »

From the Dublin Cover-up to the Vatican Cover-up

The Irish Murphy report into clerical abuse in Dublin was a governmental investigation into the Irish bishops’ cover-up of the original crimes.  In the US, a vigorous press has done a great job of exposing corresponding cover-ups by the American bishops.  But who is to investigate the most important cover-up of all, that by the Vatican?  The Vatican’s obsession with control is well-known, and is agreed to be one of the key causes behind the problem of abuse itself.  It is inconceivable that the commitment to secrecy by local bishops could be just local decisions: they had to be acting under instruction form the Vatican, and the evidence is now coming to light.

Back in 2003, the Guardian /Observer newspaper in the UK, and CBS News in the USA, carried reports of an astonishing Vatican strategy going back almost half a century, to a directive prepared as far back as 1962 by the Vatican’s Holy Office.

It’s not immediately clear whether this document is still relevant, but it clearly deserves attention. However, two guiding principles contained in these instructions, and two not ably absent, have so characterised the response from the church that we must conclude that the its spirit, if not every detailed procedure, continues to dominate church thinking and procedure.

The first of the principles contained therein is emphasised right from the first lines:  “diligently stored in the secret archives of the curia as strictly confidsential”.

Note, please, that this instruction applies to secrecy over the procedures to be applied.  Even more serious is the insistence, disclosed later in the document,  of secrecy over the content of the investigations.

Because, however, what is treated in these cases has to have a degree of care and observance so that those same matters be pursued in a most secretive way, and after,…… they are to be restrained by a perpetual silence (Instruction of the Holy Office, February 20, 1867, n14), each and everyone pertaining to the tribunal in any way … is to observe the strictest secret.

How strictly secret, exactly?  Judge that from the penalty:

“under the penalty of excommunication latae sentential, ipso facto and without any declaration [of such a penalty] having been incurred …”

There.  This crime of breaking the oath of silence is so grave, so beyond excuse, that the penalty is automatic excommunication!  Pretty serious then, just for disclosing ing information.  You would think then, that the actula crimes that this document discusses must be more serious still, calling for a much more serious penalty (burning at the stake perhaps?) Wrong.  (We’ll get to that later.)

On whom does the responsibility of this grave oath fall?  On every person involved.  Elsewhere, it is repeatedly stressed that because of the gravity of these matters, only priests, preferably senior priests of mature years, should be involved in the investigation, and that the local ordinary should not delegate responsibility to any other person, except for very specific, occasional tasks.  Indeed, the only non-cleric who will be routinely admitted, is the complainant. But s/he too, is required to take this oath of secrecy – and will be liable to excommunication if the vow is broken.

That was the seriousness of secrecy required in 1962.  Have things changed, as the bishops claimed?

Well, the entire motivation for the Irish Murphy report was precisely the evidence that there had been a major cover-up by four Dublin archbishops preceding Dr Martin.  The first three did absolutely nothing to investigate or act on the problem, except to take out insurance.  The fourth, Archbishop Connell, made some perfunctory investigations – too little, too late was the verdict- and testified that for him, the biggest crisis on his watch was the demand to hand over his confidential files.

The Murphy commission requested information from the Vatican to assist in their investigation – and got no response.  Further requests were put to the papal nuncio in Dublin – and got no response.  On completion of the draft report, a copy was provided to the nuncio early this year – and got no response.  The official reason given after final publication, was that the request “should have been submitted through the proper diplomatic channels”.  I thought the whole point of the office of papal nuncio is that he is the diplomatic representative? If there had been a breach of procedure, could he not have simply clarified the correct procedure to secure a response?  Or was there, as I strongly suspect, simply no possible approach that could have obtained any response, over a determination by the Vatican to maintain their commitment to secrecy?

In the US, the commitment to secrecy is well known, as was shown most recently by the Bishop of Bridgeport’s determination to fight through the courts to maintain his secrets.

The second notable principle contained in the report is a clear concern to protect the rights of the accused priest.  It has been claimed that this concern lies at the heart of the concern for secrecy (Ha!), and the detailed procedures make provision for the equivalent of legal counsel, for an opportunity to deal with the allegations by a sacramental act of confession, by carefully detailed attention to procedure, including the preparation of a detailed statement of the allegations against him, and by ensuring that the only people involved in the investigation are themselves mature priests.

How has this concern, from half a century ago, been “superceded” today?  The Murphy report spells out how some offenders were explicitly told by their religious “superiors” to disregard the statements or blame of lay professionals, as only the verdict of fellow clergy counted..  In the vast majority of cases, the only “penalties” incurred, even by repeat offenders, were a transfer to a fresh jurisdiction, or possibly to “administrative leave”.  Similar examples of concern for the offenders is well –known from the US.

What is missing from the report?

Most conspicuously, any concern for the rights or welfare of the complainant.

In the entire 35 page document, the primary references to the complainant is that s/he should also be subject to the oath of secrecy, and that the main “witness” in the proceedings should be a person (ideally, one again, a priest) who knows both the accused and the accuser, to act as character witness for both.  I may have missed something in 35 odd pages of turgid legalistic text, but I found no reference to any form of legal representation, so suggestion of assistance in negotiating the unfamiliar world of priestly language, environment and procedures, nor any hint of help in dealing with possible hurt or trauma that may have been inflicted.  In many cases, there does not even seem to have been any recognition that injury may have occurred: the concern is more with the priest’s violation of his priestly office, than with any hurt done to the complainant.

How has this attitude been updated, over the last 50 years?

The Murphy report clearly describes the lack of attention paid in the past to the welfare of the victims.  The US John Jay study is silent on the matter- but as I noted in my own response to the report, this is the point.  It discusses the financial cost to the church, but completely ignores the human cost to the victims. This complete lack of concern for the victims has been widely reported on, in the US and elsewhere, and is neatly summed up by the response to one complainant that her sin “could be absolved”, and the remark by one offender that it had been just a bit of “innocent pleasure”.

Finally, also totally absent for the 1962 document is any reference to secular law or civil prosecution. The text bristles with references to clauses in canon law, and with detailed specifications of procedures to be followed – but never a word on the response to dealing with what in at least some cases, could be clear and serious criminal offences.

The extreme reluctance of the church authorities to turn their findings over to the police is well known.

So it is entirely possible that the 1962mtext on detailed procedures may have been superceded.  It would be surprising if it had not been – the language and some of those detailed procedures are clearly very dated. However, it is clear that the underlying spirit and tone are very much in force.  This was effectively made clear in 2001, in a document expanding on a text by Pope John Paul II, and which appears to be the basis of the “new regulations” described by the US bishops. This lette re-emphasised the requirement for secrecy, calling for internal investigation only. Who wrote it? Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the CDF:

Joseph Ratzinger was not only complicit in the cover up of child rape committed by priests, but as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he actively continued the church policy of secrecy and obstruction of justice. He was one of its chief architects for twenty years.

(“millstones and glass houses, Pam’s house blend”)

On gay marriage, on “cohabitation”, on contraception, the church freely sets itself up as our moral guardians.  ON questions of abuse – sexual and physical abuse of chidren, sexual abuse of young and older adults, emotional abuse of us all, and above all, abuse of trust:

“Quis custodes custodiet?”

Who is guarding the guards?

Clerical Abuse, Clerical Cover-up *

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Clerical Abuse: How We Are All The Solution.

My extended series on Clerical abuse has turned into a long and depressing affair, dragging on much longer that I ever expected,and leading me into several digressions along the way, included excursions into coming out as spiritual gift, South African history, and the importance of the sensus fidelium.  These digressions, though, were important and helpful – at least to me.  The conclusions presented thus far were also depressing: the root causes are deeply embedded in the institutional culture of the church (celibacy and the concentration of ecclesiastical power) and will not be easily changed, and also directly affect us all, not only the victims and their families. We are all victims, and we have all been complicit in the causes.

Now though, I can finally bring the series to a close on a more positive note.  In the same way that the end of apartheid came about finally as a result of numerous internal and external pressures, in which all South Africans (and many foreigners) participated to some degree, so we are all part of the solution to the abuse scandal.


Read the rest of this entry »

Abuse: Vatican Blame Game, Updated

Writing about the Vatican’s blame game yesterday, (Vatican puts its Head in the Sand), I expressed some scepticism about some figures quoted that were unattributed.  I have since stumbled upon a Canadian story, reprinting one from which describes a “report” (unnamed) of February 27 2004 which appears to discuss the same figures, in greater detail.  This report appears to corroborate the Vatican’s figures of  “1.5 – 5%” of clergy implicated in allegations of abuse, but flatly contradicts the claim that other denominations are at least as guilty.  Canada’s National Post reported in 2004:

On Feb. 27, two major reports were released documenting the extent of American priestly abuse between 1950 and 2002. The numbers are staggering. All told, 4,392 priests were alleged to have sexually abused 10,667 children. That works out to about 4% of all priests in ministry, a figure many times the rate of that for Protestant clergy. The most obvious explanation for the discrepancy is simple: Protestant ministers are allowed to take wives. Catholic priests are not.
Read more:  National Post

This report states clearly that 81% of victims were boys, which differs from other estimates that to thirds were girls. But drawing a clear distinction between the abuse of young boys and adolescents, the report states that adolescents are more vulnerable to gay “ephebophiles” (i.e. attracted to young men), and young boys are more prone to molestation by heterosexual  men, attracted by the hairless, androgynous skin.  It goes on to note that even excluding gay priests from the calculations, that still leaves 3% of heterosexual priests guilty of sexual abuse of children. Read the rest of this entry »

The Impotent, Violent Hierachy.

In an interesting observation on the disgraceful Vatican investigation, Mercy Sr Theresa Kane describes as a sign not of the power of the hierarchy, but of its impotence:

Referring to the Vatican investigation of U.S. women religious initiated last December by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, who heads the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Kane called it “a sign of impotence in the church hierarchy.”

“Regarding the present interrogation, I think the male hierarchy is truly impotent, incapable of equality, co-responsibility in adult behavior,” she said, not mincing any words. “In the church today, we are experiencing a dictatorial mindset and spiritual violence.”

Kane said there is a proper place for anger. “If we do not get angry, we won’t make change,” she said. And change can come, she noted. Years back, she recalled, women were required to cover their heads when in church — “even using tissue paper, if necessary.” After a while women simply stopped the practice and the requirement ended. She called it a “silent revolution.”

Spiritual violence it demonstrably is, impotence less clearly so, but I think she is right. Real authority does not do reassert itself with these conspicuous assertions of power, but instead is proves itself by the continuing, voluntary cooperation of those governed. I also like her observations on excommunication, and on the possibility of change, and on the possibility of facing excommunication:

Kane, as the nation’s most identifiable advocate of women’s ordination, has been repeatedly asked if she fears a Vatican excommunication. Her response: “I’m not out of communion. The institution got out of communion with me.”

This is the view that I am rapidly reaching.  It is not the ordinary Catholics who are out of touch with the real heart of Catholicism, but the supposed religious experts in the Vatican, and some of the bishops, who are so obsessed with their cloistered lives, power and finery that they have completely lost touch with the realities of ordinary lives.  In their courage and willingness to stick their necks out and speak up against injustice where they see it, including injustice inside the church, against the opposition of the powerful, these women are bearing true prophetic witness to the Gospel message.  Instead of being investigated by the authorities, they should be recognised and celebrated as the true leaders of the modern church.

(Read the full report of Sr Kane’s address, and other news from the 40th anniversary conference of the National Coalition of American Nuns, at the National CAtholic  Reporter,)

Clerical Abuse: Vatican Puts its Head in the Sand.

Following the announcement of Papal visit to the UK, the Guardian yesterday carried two important stories on Benedict XVI and the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI

In an opinion piece, Tanya Gold expressing deep anger at the Papal visit.  Under the heading, “Ignore the bells and the smells and the lovely Raphaels, the Pope’s arrival in Britain is nothing to celebrate“, she writes:

Save us, O Lord, save us all. Save us from the Pope. Joseph Ratzinger is coming to Britain. Gordon Brown is “delighted”. David Cameron is “delighted”. I am “repelled”. Let him come; I applaud freedom of speech. But no red carpets, please. No biscuits. No Queen.

In his actions on child abuse and Aids, Joseph Ratzinger has colluded in the protection of paedophiles and the deaths of millions of Africans. As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Pope John Paul II’s chief enforcer), it was Ratzinger’s job to investigate the child abuse scandal that plagued the Catholic church for decades. And how did he do it? In May 2001 he wrote a confidential letter to Catholic bishops, ordering them not to notify the police – or anyone else – about the allegations, on pain of excommunication. He referred to a previous (confidential) Vatican document that ordered that investigations should be handled “in the most secretive way . . . restrained by a perpetual silence”. Excommunication is a joke to me, perhaps to you, but to a Catholic it means exclusion and perhaps hellfire – for trying to protect a child. Well, God is love. Read the rest of this entry »

Clerical Abuse: How We Are All Complicit, Part 1

After several stops and starts, with some deviations along the way, I have now almost finished with my series of posts on clerical abuse in the Catholic Church. Today, I want to proceed with my core conclusion: that in one way or other, in manner large or small , we are all part of the problem, we have all been complicit, to some degree, in the scandal.  I expect this conclusion will surprise, even shock some of you, so before I present this conclusion , it will be helpful to review the evidence and argument so far.

Before I ever began with this series, I wrote about a book by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, who had been point man for the Australian bishops in investigating the scandal in that country.  In this damning book, Robinson concludes that there are three key causes to the problem:  innate psychological problems of sexual immaturity in individuals, compulsory celibacy, and the excessively concentrated power structures of the Catholic Church.  Since then, as I ahve found that many other writers with expert knowledge have reached similar conclusions, as I noted here. I take these as a starting point, which underpin much of my reasoning. Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Marriage, Climate Change – and Clerical Abuse.

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Scranton’s Bishop Martino stepping down

Breaking news from the National Catholic Reporter is that Bishop Martino is stepping down.  Thankfully, on this side of the Atlantic I have not had to worry too much about him, but even so I was immediately able to recognise his name in the headline, and to respond, “Good  News!”.  A few quotes from the NCR clearly show why:

“Bishop Joseph F. Martino will resign as head of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., as early as next week, according to sources within the diocese, it was reported today by several outlets in the Scranton area.



The 63-year-old Martino’s six-year-tenure has been distinctive for an almost non-stop round of battles with Catholic academics, Catholic teachers’ union, Catholic politicians and a range of other groups, including his own peers among the Catholic hierarchy.

Martino, highly regarded by the Catholic right for his rigid anti-abortion stance and repeated condemnations of President Obama and other pro-choice politicians, once famously arrived unannounced at a discussion in a parish of a document on political responsibility that had been passed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and declared: “No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese. The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.” He told the assembled crowd that “The only relevant document … is my letter,” referring to a letter on politics he had mandated be read at all masses on a given Sunday. “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”

This is very far from the ideas of Vatican II collegiality, or of a listening church. Rather, these attitudes epitomise the fundamental problem in the church today, a certainty in some quarters of their own infallibility, an insistence on top-down decision making and rigid control:

He has battled with officials at Misericordia University, a Catholic college in the diocese, for hosting author Keith Boykin, a gay rights advocate, and sought to close down the institution’s program on diversity.

In February, Martino sent a letter to the leaders of three Irish-American organizations threatening to close the cathedral during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations if he groups “honor pro-abortion officials” by inviting them to speak or otherwise be honored during events in which the church might be involved.
Ultimately the mass was held, but not before he again threatened to shut down the mass if members of the local Catholic teachers’ union were invited to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Martino has refused to recognize the union.

The intriguing question which immediately came to my mind was helpfully articulated in a readers’ comment:

The Bishop is 63 and otherwise in good health. What are the reasons behing his sudden resignation? Might it be his obstinacy and authoritarianism which are a scandal to the Church? Why are diocesan officials silent about this?

Why, indeed?  But then, the immediate cause scarcely matters.  The removal from direct power of one who has so abused it, cannot but be of immedite benefit to progressive Catholicism