09 April, 2010

What Ratzinger also wrote--and what the AP hasn't told you

The AP says:

The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children…
Well, no, not actually.
Oportet proinde hanc Congregationem subjicere huiuscemodi casus accuratiori examini, quod longius temporis spatium necessario requiret.

Interim Excellentia Tua ne omittat oratorem paterna qua pollet cura sequi, eidem insuper apte patefaciendo rationem agendi huius Dicasterii, quod procedere solet habito prae oculis praeprimis bono communi.

(In the same manner, this Congregation needs to subject a case of this nature to a more careful examination, which requires more time.

In the meantime, Your Excellency should not fail to follow (sequi) the petitioner with the paternal care which prevails, disclosing to him in a suitable manner the rationale of this office, which is accustomed by habit to proceed with its eyes looking above all at the common good.)
It's curious that the AP uses the word provide instead of follow. They don't put "provide" in quotes, suggesting that it is not the word used by their translator. Sequi is a Latin word that ordinarily means "to follow"; from it we obtain words like sequence and consecutive. The online Perseus resources do not suggest "provide" as any sort of translation for sequi. From my familiarity with Italian, as well as some alternate translations there, I can see how its meaning could be stretched to include, "keep an eye on him", which is what the Vatican has said Ratzinger meant. Regardless, it's strange—though I am, admittedly, no expert in Latin.

Neverthemore, the letter does not suggest in any way that Ratzinger "resisted" defrocking the guy. Rather, it states quite clearly that he didn't want to hurry the process.

The Vatican lawyer, Lena, suggests this, saying,
[It was handked] expeditiously, not by modern standards, but by those standards at the time.
Of course, he's the Vatican lawyer, so he could be lying. On the other hand, we have the words of Bishop Cummins, to whom the letter was written. He states,
These things were slow and their idea of thoroughness was a little more than ours.
When he (Ratzinger) took over I think he was following what was the practice of the time, that Pope John Paul was slowing these things down.
What exactly would this mean?

We have to make a distinction here that the AP's writers seem not to have grasped yet. "Defrocking" does not mean "removing a priest from active ministry": it means forbidding a man ever to act as a priest again. They are two different things.

During the 1970s, a large number of priests had requested defrocking. At first their requests were treated "expeditiously" (again, given the Vatican) but a few of them had second thoughts later on. Pope John Paul was elected in 1979, and was for several reasons determined to put a stop to it. A priest might be removed from ministry very quickly, but not defrocked.

Well, one might ask, even if so, the man should still have been removed from ministry. Absolutely! But this decision was not made by the Congregation. It's a decision made by the bishop.

The AP doesn't tell you that. You will, however, get that from the Italian Corriere della Sera:
Fermo restando che il sacerdote non veniva riammesso al lavoro pastorale, tema che non era all'epoca di competenza della Congregazione della dottrina della fede, che divenne competente su questi casi nel 2001.

(Resting firm that that the priest should not be readmitted to pastoral work, a role that in that era did not lie within the competence of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which acquired competence on these cases in 2001.)
From what I've read, it acquired that competence because Ratzinger prevailed on Pope John Paul II to confer it. This rubbed a lot of people in the Vatican the wrong way (see below).

There's more. The AP implies that Ratzinger was afraid that if the story about the man's pedophilia got out, the Church's image would suffer. But this doesn't sound right: according to the same story, the man had already been convicted, and had served three years' probation. What more scandal could come from defrocking the man?

Last week, the AP tried the same thing with two cases in Arizona, implying that Ratzinger had obstructed them. You had to get to the end of the article to find what the bishop of Tucson said about Ratzinger's cooperation:
My experience — and as I've looked at the records in our serious cases — the Vatican actually was prodding, through the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and Cardinal Ratzinger, to try to get this case going…
That's prodding, not plodding. Buried within the article is the fact that two other Congregations were involved in this. In another article you'll find that the case was tied up in appeals (much as occurs in our own judicial system).

What the AP also doesn't remark on is the following observation, which really does deserve remark. When Ratzinger assumed control of CDF in 1981, it took years to defrock a priest. Partly this was because other congregations were involved. Twenty years later, he managed to convince Pope John Paul II to place CDF in charge of all cases of defrocking that involved sexual abuse. Subsequently, defrocking has occurred quite quickly, and in the majority of cases without so much as a trial. In other words, Ratzinger's own legacy has been not to obstruct or make it harder to defrock a priest, but to transform the process from a slow one that "languished" out of concerns of due process to one that was shockingly efficient. Don't believe me; read what the National Catholic Reporter has to say about it.
By all accounts, Ratzinger was punctilious about studying the files, making him one of the few churchmen anywhere in the world to have read the documentation on virtually every Catholic priest ever credibly accused of sexual abuse. … Of the 500-plus cases that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealt with prior to Benedict's election to the papacy, the substantial majority were returned to the local bishop authorizing immediate action against the accused priest -- no canonical trial, no lengthy process, just swift removal from ministry and, often, expulsion from the priesthood. In a more limited number of cases, the congregation asked for a canonical trial, and in a few cases the congregation ordered the priest reinstated. … Ratzinger and his deputies sometimes squared off against other departments which regarded the "zero tolerance" policy as an over-reaction, not to mention a distortion of the church's centuries-long canonical tradition, in which punishments are supposed to fit the crime, and in which tremendous discretion is usually left in the hands of bishops and other superiors to mete out discipline.
Historically, the Reporter has not been fond of Ratzinger—not, at least, when I was reading it in the mid-90s.

Update: The Washington Post article has a fuller response from the Vatican lawyer, although you have to read about one-third of the way into the article to get to it.

Lena points out that the case wasn't referred to CDF as an abuse case, but as a self-initiated request for defrocking. Two facts back him up on this: first, at that time, CDF did not have competence over sexual abuse cases. CDF had competence only over abuses of the confessional, which is how the Milwaukee case ended up at CDF. This has been mentioned repeatedly in the news.

Second, Lena drops a shocking bit of news:
The abuse case wasn't transferred to the Vatican at all.
Read that again: the abuse case never went to the Vatican. All the articles have stated that it was the priest himself who asked to be defrocked.

I repeat: the priest had already received and completed a criminal sentence; scandal had already occurred, so Ratzinger could not possibly have been afraid of that. The AP writers misrepresented this story badly.

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