Sunday, 21 March 2010

Pope Benedict's Letter to the Irish Church: Handwringing, Blame

The pastoral latter is carefully constructed to address several groups of people affected by clerical sexual abuse, or implicated in it as perpetrators, or as complicit in their protection. Benedict speaks directly to the survivors and heir families, and to the rest of the Irish people.  He speaks to the priests who were guilty, and to the bishops who shielded them. He speaks also to the rest of the Irish clergy ,to those priests and bishops who were not implicated, but are now shamed by mere association with the rotten eggs in the clerical basket.  But - where's Wally? Who's missing from the line-up?

Vatican Cardinals: Free from blame?

In treating this as an entirely Irish affair, in speaking only to the Irish priests and clergy, are we really to believe that culpability lies solely on those flawed Irish, and none in his own domain, the Cardinals of the Curia?
There is not a word in the document addressed to the Vatican bureaucrats who make and enforce the rules, nor about the fundamental problem of central control in the church. There is however, some hand wringing about the "misunderstanding" of Vatican II, as if a reversion to pre-conciliar practice would have prevented the problem. The truth is the exact opposite:  the failure of the Council here is the exact opposite:  the movement to greater collegiality and accountability, with greater lay participation, was never completed or followed through.  Benedict has correctly pointed to the excessive deference paid to the clergy in Ireland as one of the problems underlying the enabling environment for abuse.  He completely ignores the way in which he and his Vatican colleagues since the departure of John Paul I, have systematically worked to reinforce the corresponding excessive deference and blind obedience to the papacy.
He further decries in the letter the "misunderstanding" of canon law concerning secrecy, and insists that there is nothing in canon law to "prevent" the referral of offenders to the secular authorities for prosecution. In doing so, he once again sidesteps any personal responsibility for this "misunderstanding", which may have arisen in a 2001 directive he signed himself, when heading the CDF.    In recent weeks, there has been a lot of press attention to this directive, which has been widely interpreted as insisting on absolute secrecy. This is an interpretation that was widely applied, and indeed often broadcast.  Now, over the past few days, there have been a series of Vatican apologists and papal acolytes insisting, as Benedict does in the letter, that this is all a grave misunderstanding:  the secrecy insisted on applied only to the church's own investigations, not to the offences themselves. Indeed, he states innocently to assert his own virtue, he encouraged the Irish bishops in an earlier consultation, to investigate the  matter fully and to bring all offences into the light (the light, that is, of church investigation, not God forbid, the full public light of day). But if the interpretation then by the Irish  (and other) bishops of the instruction on secrecy was such a  misinterpretation, where is the evidence that he made any attempt to put them right?  Where is the evidence that  serious offences not only "might" be reported to police, but "should" or "must" be reported?
There is another curious omission in this document.  I have noted his careful avoidance of any reference to his own culpability in enabling the conditions in which abusers could flourish;  but there is also almost no indication of what he does done, up to now, to address the problem himself.  The only exception is his reference, noted above, to his earlier encouragement of the bishops to proceed with their investigations. All this does, is to confirm that he already knew at the time of the seriousness of the allegations.  Where is the evidence that he has done anything about them since, until forced to by the very public revelations of he Murphy report last November?
Why, if he is now so clear that offenders should be willing to face justice, and that bishops should co-operate with secular authorities, did he not instruct his papal nuncio in Dublin to co-operate with the investigations of he Murphy enquiry, which the nuncio repeatedly failed to do - and continued to refuse to co-operate with a parliamentary inquiry even after publication of the damning report?
Over the past week, as global anger has exploded, we have been treated to repeated reminders by papal apologists and acolytes of Benedict's assurances, upon assuming the papacy, that he would clean the Church of this "filth".  Where is the evidence, beyond some hand-wringing and soothing words, that he has in fact done anything at all?
Indeed, he needs to cleanse the Church of this filth - but he should be staring with the Augean stables on his doorstep.

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