A hot topic of conversation is the letter which Pope Benedict just wrote to the people of Ireland concerning the atrocious clergy abuse that has come to light in my island of saints and scholars.
The positive comments about the letter that I've heard refer to:
- The Pope's words of sorrow and admiration for the abused, expressed plainly in readable, non-convoluted, intelligible language
- Frank language used when he addresses priest abusers
- His encouragement of innocent priests, suffering by association
- His unequivocal plain talk when addressing priest abusers
- His acknowledgment that some of his fellow bishops failed, “grievously,” made “serious mistakes,” responsible for “grave errors of judgment,” and “failures of leadership.”
- Encouragement to the Irish bishops to “co-operate with the civil authorities.”
- Call for “decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency.”
In Ireland, the sticking point with the Holy Father’s letter seems to be related to the fact that he chooses to blame the sex abuse scandals on secularism and moral relativism, on the falling off of religious devotion and the failures to adhere to canon law. This is not unusual for the former Cardinal Ratzinger who has a history of seeing things from his unique, frequently rigid perspective.
My take is he is missing the mark – at least in terms of how he frames the problem for the public.
I finished high school in Ireland in 1962. At that time traditional moral absolutism reigned supreme in Irish Catholicism. Attendance at Sunday Mass and weekly confession were the hallmarks of Catholic practice in those days. I knew three of the Dublin Archbishops who allegedly covered up clerical abuse in the period covered by the Murphy Commission. By no stretch of the imagination would I describe John Charles McQuaid, Dermot Ryan, or Desmond Connell as moral relativists or secularists. Au contraire!
A second sticking point and one which concerns me the most is that I can’t find any reference in the Holy Father’s letter which might suggest that the Vatican itself played any role or bears any responsibility in the tragic events exposed by the Murphy Commission. In his letter, the Pope doesn’t even mention why his nuncio in Ireland or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith refused to cooperate with the Murphy investigation or with the investigative committee of the department of Foreign Affairs of the Irish government.
The Holy Father urges the implementation of church guidelines, and continued co-operation with the civil authorities. The fact that, at this stage of the game, he makes no mention of the systematic concealment of serious crimes from the police is upsetting, because it starting to appear that this concealment seems to have been a practice, approved by the Vatican, all over the world. As the international breadth of the scandals unfolds surely it’s time for the Pope to examine his own Vatican procedures and bureaucracies? As he writes to the people of Ireland, Pope Benedict himself is being criticized for concealment of abuse in his native Germany.
On this blog, I try to see the glass as half full. I prefer to “light a candle rather than curse the darkness.” I have expressed by hope that the Legionaries of Christ will accept whatever recommendations Pope Benedict will make to them when he gets the results of the Apostolic Visitation.
Sometimes, I have allowed a glimmer of doubt to emerge in my musings. Does the Pope and the Vatican “get it?” I think that is why I react when people choose to pile on the criticism of the Legionaries and their disgraced founder. It’s hard to admit the problem is much bigger than one priest and one congregation – and seems to be getting bigger by the day. The “apology” to the victims of Marcial Maciel recently offered by Legionary superior Fr. Evaristo Sada was widely criticized as insufficient. But at least he didn’t blame the sins of the father on secularism and moral relativism.
Did the Pope do a better job in his letter to the people of Ireland? Does his language offer any insight into what he may recommend to the Legionaries of Christ?
Pope Benedict, after meeting with the Irish bishops had an opportunity to reach out, as the major representative of the Catholic Church to ask humbly for forgiveness to those wronged by clerical abuse. Somehow, I do not feel that he made the most of the opportunity. Maybe he is afraid to contemplate any dilution of a very traditional notion of absolute, infallible authority? Maybe he doesn’t get it? Maybe he doesn’t quite know what to do? I don’t know what the answer is. If I were Pope, I think I would convene Vatican Council Three.