In the German, Irish, American and other abuse cases, the decisions by church officials not to involve the police and courts and not to conduct public, transparent inquiries weren’t simple matters of coddling individual priests and bishops or blunt acts of criminal evasion. They were motivated by an array of factors, chief among them a belief that handing secular critics ammunition to be used against the church would jeopardize its outstanding work.
“For the whole life of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, they have dealt with this question of scandal as if it were a sin in and of itself,” Mr. France said. “You can go back to the year 400 and see writings in the Catholic magisterium about avoiding scandal.”
Partly because of that, and partly because of its resistance to yielding to secular expectations, the church has not made gestures that a corporation or government in its embattled situation would feel compelled to make. Cardinal Brady has not been stripped of his leadership position. And in a public letter of apology to the people of Ireland, the pope did not call for, or specify, disciplinary action against any of the many church leaders who covered up an epidemic of abuse there.
But when an institution is girded so thoroughly against threats from without, can it address and remedy the threats from within? The persistence of the child sexual abuse crisis, intensifying once again, suggests that the church’s defensive posture may in fact be a self-defeating one.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Frank Bruni reported on the Vatican for The New York Times from 2002 to 2004. On March 26, he wrote an insightful piece in the New York Times which I think is a fairly accurate explanation of the very complex reactions of the Vatican to the clergy abuse scandal. Here are Bruni's conclusions: