Not So Easy, your Holiness!

Pope Bendict XVI’s recent efforts to deal with the clergy sexual abuse problem are not only too feeble; they’re downright dangerous.

The National Catholic Reporter reported on Benedict’s sermon for his general audience on Sept 8 with this lead: “The problem of abuse by clergy is solved more by a spirit of penitence and conversion by its members than by a radical change of church structures, Pope Benedict XVI said.”

The Pope’s own words were: “a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change in the structures as much as with a sincere spirit of penitence.”

Your Holiness,  that approach not only lets you and the bishops off the hook.  It allows the conditions in which this problem bred to endure.

Maybe it’s because the Pope doesn’t like liberation theology that he won’t accept one of its central claims:  sin may have its roots in the human heart, but it can take on an independent reality of its own in the structures of institutions and laws.  To confront sin and evil, a change of heart is always necessary.  But often it is not enough.

And that certainly pertains to the problem of priestly and episcopal pedophilia, and its cover up.   The actual acts of sexual abuse of children may not be directly linked to obligatory celibacy. But it does have to do with the clerical ethos or culture that results from the all-male, all-celibate (supposedly), and all-powerful structures of authority in the Catholic Church.

Even more clearly, the sad cover-ups and the persistent refusal to admit complicity by most bishops (especially in the USA) have to do with the patriarchal structures that place absolute power of authority in the hands of one bishop in each diocese and in the hands of one bishop over all the Catholic Church.

Unless these structures are changed according to the spirit and I dare say mandates of the Second Vatican Council – which called for greater power sharing between bishops and pope, and between laity and clergy – there will be no “true renewal of the ecclesial community.”

Your Holiness,  Please change your heart so that we can change our structures.

The Pope Just Doesn’t Get It!

He may be infallible. But he sure can screw up when it comes to public relations.

That was painfully clear in the latest Vatican publication of “Substantive Norms” on how it is going to get tough on priest pedophiles.

As reported in the New York Times and in the National Catholic Reporter,  the document, in one sense, doesn’t say that much. Basically, it is a collection of past directives on how to more expeditiously remove offending priests from office and eventually kick them out of the priesthood. (It’s called laicization, which among other things, dispenses the priestly sexual offenders from the obligation of celibacy. Hmmm….).

But what would have been new, and what would have helped the standing of the Vatican and the Catholic Church throughout the world, was glaringly missing: directives on how to call to task bishops who deliberately covered up the offenses or didn’t follow the law and report the offending Fathers to the local authorities.

Nor do these official “norms” say a word about obliging bishops to alert authorities when they have a sexual offender in their midst. Not a word about any of the responsibilities and culpabilities that so many bishops bear in this whole mess. Again, hmmm…. (One can only wonder about possible responsibility and culpability that the present Bishop of Rome might bear in the cover-ups and neglect when he was Bishop of Munich back in the 80s.)

But if this latest statement from the Pope and his staff can be faulted for what it doesn’t say, it can be absolutely deplored for what it does say. Alongside priestly sexual abuse of children and of people with mental disabilities, alongside child pornography, the Vatican statement lists as grievous “delicts” and offenses to the well-being of the church: the ordination of women!

The suggestion here is that God, like the Pope, is equally offended by a woman presenting herself to be a priest as by a priest raping a child!

This is simply beyond the comprehension of most people. And it arouses the consternation of most people: how in the world can the Vatican equate such claimed “dangers” to the church? Why, in a document aimed at dealing with the bewildering and scandalous problem of priests taking sexual advantage of children must the Holy Father and his advisers mention the “problem” of women wanting equal status in the Catholic church?

The New York Times opined that the Vatican inserted mention of women’s ordination in order to send a clear message that it wasn’t buying the suggestion that if there were “Mothers” besides the “Fathers” in the Catholic clergy, there would have been greater concern to protect and then stand up for the rights of children. The Vatican wanted to make perfectly clear that in addressing the problem of abusive priests in the church, it was not addressing the problem of abused women in the church.

If that was the internal motive, it is no justification for the public relations disaster. The fact that the Pope and his fellow-clerics had no inkling of how this juxtaposing of priestly pedophilia and women’s ordination would be perceived, how it would register on the minds and especially in the feelings of people “out in the world,” both inside and outside the Catholic Church, is itself an indication of how much these old, celibate, woman-less and childless men are out of touch with the people they say they are serving.

Pope Benedict, May I quote Josef Ratzinger?

Joseph Ratzinger vs. Pope Benedict

Peritus Ratzinger

In a recent article in the New York Review of Books on the morass of pedophilia crimes and cover-ups facing Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church, Anthony Grafton offers these words of encouragement and hope for bewildered Catholics: “Again and again, Catholics have proved astonishingly resilient and inventive, and have come forward to offer what the hierarchical Church was not providing.”

That rather uplifting statement brought back to my mind similar words that I heard from the lips of none other than the young Father Josef Ratzinger, way back in 1963, in Rome, when he was attending the Second Vatican Council as a theological “peritus” (expert).

I was an even younger seminarian in Rome at the time, just beginning my theological studies at the Gregorian University.  Every evening when the Council was in session, there would be talks given all over Rome by the periti which we seminarians and the general public could attend.  It was a theological candy shop — with offerings from the likes of Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, Ives Congar, Edward Schillebeeckx, John Courtney Murray, Gregory Baum (sorry, at the time, there were no peritae).

Josef Ratzinger was a rather new name.  But one evening, we thought we’d give him a hearing. He was giving a talk on the church, and if I remember correctly it was in a press office on the Via della Conciliazione, right in St. Peter’s front yard.  He was brilliant.  And I remember one particular statement that both stunned and encouraged us. It was something like: “There have been times in the history of the Catholic Church when the bishops have so fallen away from the spirit of the Gospel, that it becomes necessary for the laity to exercise the  rights given them in baptism and to stand up, speak up, resist — even to the point of disobedience!”

I don’t think that the present clerical pedophilia morass is calling us Catholics to disobey. But it is calling us to stand up and speak up and demand that the Pope and the bishops make a public confession of the way they have mishandled so many cases of offending priests and bishops.

All they have to do is follow the rules for a “good confession” that are still given in any orthodox Catholic catechism:  a careful examination of conscience, an honest confession of sins (in detail if they are mortal sins), a sincere act of contrition, and a firm purpose of amendment.  If the Pope and bishops would do that, publicly, they would surely be forgiven by God — and the Catholic laity.

So, Pope Benedict, may I remind you that Josef Ratzinger is encouraging us to speak up….

Where’s the “dictatorship of relativism”?

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict

In a March 28 article on the present plight of the Pope and priestly pedophilia (wow, I didn’t intend that alliteration!), the NEW YORK TIMES wrote: “As archbishop, Benedict expended more energy pursuing theological dissidents than sexual predators.”  They’re referring to the early 80s, when Pope Benedict was Cardinal Ratzinger presiding over the diocese of Munich.

The claim has to be set in context, as John Allen reminds us in an op-ed piece in the same issue of the NYT.  In those days, priestly pedophilia was understood to be more of a moral disorder than a psychological disorder.  If it’s a moral problem, you can go to confession with a “firm purpose of amendment,” and then get back to your life armed with God’s grace.  If the problem is psychological, you will need serious therapy  and maybe God’s grace will be able to bring you only so far. The bishops, at that time, didn’t realize the messy psychic roots of pedophilia.

Okay. That’s true.  But what was becoming clear in the 80′s, I’m told, was the reality of post-traumatic stress and the disorder it causes. That was seen in Vietnam vets.  And it was also clear that the trauma of sexual abuse of children can have the same enduring devastating effects.   That the bishops could have, or should have, known:   If they thought that the moral disorder of priestly pedophilia could be set aright in the confessional and through grace, they should have also known (and maybe did) that the psychological disorder that the abuse caused in children could not be handled so neatly.  Such disorder and pain pervaded the life of the abused victims into their adulthood, long after the priests were absolved and back at the altar.  Where was the pastoral concern for the children who, as we have heard, were sometimes required to take oaths of silence about what had happened to them?

And here is where the TIMES article is telling us something.  What seems to be true of Ratzinger was broadly true of many bishops: he was more concerned about the horrors of heresy than the horrors of psychological devastations of sexually abused children.

That brings me to the “dictatorship of relativism.”  This was the phrase that Cardinal Ratzinger used in the sermon he preached for all his fellow Cardinals during the Mass before they all entered the Sacred Conclave and elected Ratzinger as Pope.  Many commentators have pointed out that it was this rallying call to oppose relativism that roused many Cardinals to vote for him.

Relativism, loosely described, means “anything goes.”  Ratzinger was going to put a stop to that among theologians.  That’s what occupied him as archbishop of Munich, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and as Pope. There are limits to what a theologian can say. If he or she goes too far, they lose their job.

But while Ratzinger and many Catholic bishops have opposed the dictatorship of theological relativism,  they seem to have  slacked on opposing — indeed, they seem to be fostering — a dictatorship of moral relativism when it comes to how they have handled not only pedophile priests, but bishops who have covered for, and then reassigned, such priests.

While theologians who have gone too far in questioning the uniqueness of Christ have been forbidden to teach, bishops who have not reported pedophile priests to the authorities have been promoted.

Where’s the relativism?  Where’s the “anything goes”?  Who is the dictator of relativism?


Your Holiness, I hope this letter somehow reaches you.  I think it might help you find a way out of the mess you are in.

I’m referring to the accusations being made that you allowed a priest, Fr. Peter Hullermann, who had been identified as a pedophile in the diocese of Essen back in 1980, to come to your diocese in Munich, and after a brief period of therapy, he was permitted to take up his ministry without any enforced restrictions about staying away from kids.

And now the New York Times has made known that Dr. Werner Huth, the psychiatrist who treated (or tried to treat) Fr. Hullermann, reported to the Munich diocesan authorities at the time that Fr. Hullermann had refused to engage in one-on-one therapy and that he was “neither invested nor motivated” in his therapy.  Dr. Huth recommended to your diocese that Fr. Hullermann could be readmitted to priestly ministry only under the strictest conditions – namely, “that he stay away from children, not drink alcohol, and be accompanied and supervised at all times by another priest.”

Well, Fr. Hullerman was soon assigned a parish post, and Dr. Huth has stated that these conditions were “enforced only intermittently.”  It must have been very intermittently, since Hullermann was convicted in 1986 of sexually abusing minors and distributing pornographic materials.

The Vicar General for your diocese at the time has covered for you and said that you did not know that Hullermann was assigned to a parish. Also, Dr. Huth cannot prove that his stern warnings that “For God’s sake, he desperately has to be kept away from working with children,” were ever communicated to you.

Even if you can prove that you knew nothing about the reports of the psychiatrist or of the assignment of Fr. Hullermann, you cannot avoid the question that comes thundering into the mind and onto the lips of anyone reading about this:  WHY DIDN’T YOU?!  HOW COULD YOU NOT HAVE?

Your Holiness, excuse my bluntness: You are sailing down that well-known creek without a paddle.  You need to do something to clear your name and to reinstate the confidence of the Catholic church (that is, the Catholic people) in your leadership.

The legal, perhaps moral, solution would be for you to resign, as it would have been for the bishops mentioned by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s 2003 “Report on the Sexual Abuse of Children in the Boston Archdiocese.”  These were the bishops who cooperated with Cardinal Law in the cover up of pedophile priests.  All of them went on to be promoted to head other dioceses, while Law himself was removed and promoted to a plush post in the Vatican. (The Boston Bishops I’m talking about are: Thomas  Daily, Robert Banks, Alfred Hughes, William Murphy, and John McCormack.)  None of these men were really held responsible by Pope John Paul II or by you.  So we can’t really expect you to hold yourself responsible.

Therefore I’m suggesting that you can all keep your jobs and still show the Catholic people that you are serious about reforming the church and the all-male clerical caste-system that, according to many and most recently Hans Küng, is at the root of the deception and the sexual abuse.

All you have to do is drop obligatory celibacy for the priesthood and admit women to the priesthood!

Both of these moves are theologically possible, as the majority of your Roman Catholic theologians and scripture scholars will explain to you.  And, the move would enable you to have a sufficient number of priests around the world to enable the Catholic people to keep their “Sunday obligation” of going to Mass. (Right now, because you make celibacy more important than the Eucharist, there aren’t enough priests.)

So that’s the deal:  You and the offending bishops can keep your jobs, and regain the respect of your people – simply by admitting men and women to the priesthood without requiring them to deprive themselves of the intimacy of sexual love.

As easy as that!  How about it?