Monday, March 22, 2010

Time to convene the Third Vatican Council?

I didn't have time to post very much last week. Apart from business projects that sucked up most of my time, St. Patrick's day provided me with a bit of distraction and the opportunity to catch up with friends and family in Ireland.

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.”
However, my early impression is that the pope's apology will not contribute much to diminish the anger that Irish people, especially the young, now feel towards the Catholic Church. Therein lies an interesting question, the answer to which is also relevant to the Vatican’s handling of Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ and to the anticipated outcomes of the recent Apostolic Visitation.

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.


Marcial Padilla said...


El Papa dijo que sanar este pecado no sería fácil ni rápido. Esto es un paso en un largo camino.

Creo que en el caso de los Legionarios de Cristo podemos pensar lo mismo. Esperemos que todos los pasos se den en esa dirección.

Mientras tanto, el césped sigue creciendo, el mundo sigue girando y el río Tormes sigue siendo el lugar más verde del mundo después de Irlanda.

Oremus ad invicem.

Anonymous said...

Monk - I hear what you are saying but it is a sad day when you think that Fr Evarista's apology is better than Pope Bs apology. I thought the Pope was honest, pastoral, humble. Seems like you are judging the Vatican way more than you are the LC hierarchy for thier cover-up of Maciel's life.
Seems like you fully believe all the abuse issues in Ireland but I am not even sure I hear you admitting that Fr M abused many. At least the Pope admits there was sexual abuse. The LC has not even done that yet.

The Monk said...

Anonymous - Just to clarify: I don't think that Fr. Evaristo's apology was better than the Pope's. That's not what I am saying.

I don't disagree that the Pope's apology was honest pastoral and humble. And I've never suggested I don't believe MM abused many.

What I am suggesting, is that this abuse problem is much bigger than the LC, MM or Ireland. Many people (in Ireland, at least) seem to think the Pope did not go far enough; others clearly think the LC has not apologized sufficiently. That's not something that I'm judging.

Maybe I'm more than a little tired of all the self-righteous finger pointing - blame Evaristo, blame MM, blame the Irish bishops. There is more than enough blame to go around. But - what about the Vatican? It hurts to have to ask it, but is the Vatican beyond reproach?

I am just asking a question - does the Holy Father miss the mark by relating the clergy abuse problem in Ireland to secularism and relativism? He clearly blames the Irish hierarchy. In my estimation, the ones he blames were not obvious examples of secularist and relativisitic prelates.

Is it now necessary for the sake of credibility (locking the barn door after the horse has bolted...) for the Holy See to acknowledge its role in the scandals? Is it time for a truly pastoral gesture whereby the Pope himself would be willing to make himself vulnerable? I think it's a valid question and I ask it as a supporter of the Holy Father. My guess is that many victims will not settle for less.

So, leaving aside (for the moment) the specific case of MM which has been discussed ad nauseum, what do you think the answer might be?

Anonymous said...

From the Irish letter:

6. To the victims of abuse and their families

You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church.

imo, the Pope IS apologizing in this letter, he is saying WHO he is sorry to, and WHAT he is sorry for. I am sorry to belabor the point about Fr Evaristo, but you are the one who opened that door first. If you have any evidence of an apology by Fr ES, please, do share. I mean that sincerely, when and where and to whom did he apologize?

Also, it seems a bit silly to me to bring Fr ES and the LC into your post, then protest that the case has been discussed "ad nauseum".

RC said...

I think that calling a 3rd Vatican Council would be going too far. Priests violating their vows of chastity (in all permutations and variations) is just part of having human beings in the Church. As a culture, we have accepted so many violations of chastity, that the only thing left that is taboo, is the violation of children and teens. And while this might be a problem elsewhere as well, and to a greater degree than in the Church, that abuse is not getting the same degree of attention as the Church's problem.

I think that there are two elements to this: 1) abhorence towards religious hypocrites; 2) protest against the Church's rigorous standards when it comes to sexuality, with those who advocate greater license wanting to accuse the Church of hypocrisy as a propaganda measure to be used against it.

While only God can bring healing to those who were abused by an abuse of confidence by a priest, it is important to focus on measures to deal with the problem. And here I am glad to see Benedict advocating greater enforcement of the canon law, as well as action with regards to the specifics: the apostolic visitation.

The good fruit of all of this, is that those who were advocating the suppression of this latest taboo, sex with children, have been halted in their tracks.

Anonymous said...

Monk, I asked you a fair question on March 22nd, and you haven't responded.

"If you have any evidence of an apology by Fr ES, please, do share. I mean that sincerely, when and where and to whom did he apologize?"

Do you not have a response? Or are you still searching for the evidence of an apology? ;-)

The Monk said...

Anonymous - sorry for not responding earlier!

Evaristo Sada apologized at the
Youth & Family Encounter, Mexico, February 20, 2010. I was in Mexico City at the time although I was not at the Family Encounter. However, every major newspaper in Mexico carried the story and his speech was widely regarded as an important statement. One could argue he didn't say enough but, to me the following sounded like an apology"

"I would like to ask wholehearted forgiveness of the people whom our founder has affected by the immoral actions of his personal life, and also of the people who have felt hurt by its consequences. Fr Alvaro has already done so and is doing so in public and in private, but once again, we ask forgiveness because we are sincerely sorry for what the Church and people have suffered."

Hope that answers your question.

Anonymous said...

Monk - you know, and I know, that "apology" by Fr ES was anything but an apology. Shame on you for obtusely claiming it as an apology! It was addressed to a crowd of Regnum Christi faithful, gathered at a YFE, not to the victims who accused MM of abuse so many years ago. Is that how you would issue an apology?
I doubt it.

On the other hand, the LC communique which you have posted here is a better apology. It may not be perfect, but it is a huge leap, imo, for the Legion to finally say, yes, abuse did happen.

I personally feel very vindicated for spending the past year standing for these victims, and making my voice heard whenever and however possible. I pray this will be a step toward ongoing healing for these victims, and that the Legion may build on this move with actions to follow their words.

The Monk said...

Anonymous -

The communique on March 25 is the first official apology from the LC, directed to victims. Imperfect but at least it's a start.

The ES speech was widely regarded as an apology (not specifically to victims) in Mexico. Some 10,000 people heard it and it was widely diffused in the media. That's what I meant. It was a start. My guess is that the timing of "official" apologies and statements are tightly controlled by the Vatican. I'm not saying that to defend the LC - I just think it's naive to suppose that the Vatican would not be pulling the stings granted the current state of affairs.