Showing posts with label abuse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label abuse. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

It’s Iimi: What if God Sent You?

Della and her roommate, Myrna, try to track down the Ochlos residence to see if Paula is the victim of physical abuse, Myrna asks why God doesn’t stop one person from being victimized by another.

The question of Why Does God Permit Evil is a hard one. We do trust that God is good and all-powerful, but when something terrible happens, it is hard to grasp. But sometimes, when we are outraged over the suffering of others and we ask, “How come God didn’t prevent it?” we need to consider the counter question: What if He sent you?

[EDIT]: Page 5 replaced to fix a cosmetic error and page 9 replaced to fix Myrna calling Della “Paula.”

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Reasonable and Unreasonable Petitions

As the abuse summit moves forward, we will see many people calling for different solutions. Some of them will be reasonable. Others will not. The difference is ultimately one of whether the demand recognizes what the Church can legitimately do. The Church cannot change her doctrine. The Church cannot do evil so good may come of it. Any demands along this line are doomed to failure. The Church cannot remove evil from her midst by decree. If she could, St. Peter probably would have done that the day after Pentecost in AD 33. The weeds will remain among the wheat (see Matthew 13:24-30) [§].

And that’s why the Church cannot forget her obligation to be God’s chosen means to bring salvation into the world. As much as the actions of men like McCarrick disgust us, we are not freed from our obligations to seek their salvation. This is difficult and painful. I can’t claim to know what victims and their family members went through. I certainly can’t say, “Well, I would have handled it better.” For all I know, I might have responded to it much worse if I had been in their place.

There are also reasonable petitions. The victims and their family members have a right to make their needs known, provided it is done in a respectful manner. Canon 212 reads:

This means that we the faithful can certainly make known our needs. But we must respect the shepherds of the Church in doing so. We must respect the teachings on faith and morals in doing so. If our petitions do not heed these requirements, then the Church must refuse them. That doesn’t mean that the Church is “doing nothing.”

In my opinion, I think it is reasonable to expect that the Church establish policies that handle bishops who abuse or are culpably silent. I think it’s reasonable to expect that the Church take complaints of abuse seriously. But if our preferred ways of doing this go against what the Church can or must do, we will be disappointed. We must obey God’s teachings.

God remains in control of His Church, even when some of those who shepherd us fail, or even do evil. Cleaning out this vile evil may take years, or even decades after the summit ends—those who did or willingly turned a blind eye to evil will no doubt try to hide the fact, making it as difficult as possible to discover—but it will be done.

In the meantime, we should be praying for the victims, that they find healing and justice. We should also be pray for the Summit that they find a way to justly reform the Church from evil that has gone on too long. But, when we seek justice, our position before The Lord must be like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42. We must say, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” 


[§] That doesn’t mean being passive in the face of injustice. The fact that we can’t violently uproot the suspected weeds (exact God’s Judgment for Him) does not mean we must let evil go unchecked.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Ten Reflections on Combox Comments on Abuse in the Church

Preliminary Notes: It is not the intention of this article to pass judgment on or lecture to the victims of abuse or their family members. Regardless of what the Church does to solve the crisis, that will be little comfort to the victims who will rightly hold that the Church never should have let itself get into this situation in the first place. It won’t discuss specific cases of abuse either. I imagine that actual victims won’t want some blogger to use their personal suffering to make a point.


The revelation that there are credible charges sexual against someone who managed to become a cardinal and the discovery that some bishops concealed cases of sexual abuse instead of reporting them to the proper authority was shocking. Those bishops brought harm to individual victims and their families. Moreover, despite doing so to protect the “good name of the Church” they actually failed to achieve that: if the bishops had promptly done what they were morally obligated to, the brief embarrassment over the publicity of turning predators over to the proper authorities would have been outweighed in the long run by establishing the credibility of the Church as protecting the victims. Now that stain will last for decades, if not centuries.

However, despite the anger and disgust over this mishandling of the sexual abuse crisis, we need to keep some facts in mind if we are to have a just response. None of these points should be seen as trying to “explain away” the evil done. Rather they are aimed at reflecting on things constantly repeated on social media and mentioning things that I think we should remember.

1) Sexual abuse is not exclusively a Catholic sin

The Catholic Church is singled out for the predator priests. But the percentage of priests who abuse is roughly the same as sexual abuse in non Catholic churches and non Christian institutions. Statistically speaking, the greatest source of abuse are the public schools. That’s understandable. Predators seek out positions of trust that give access to their victims. If that position is so respectable that people would immediately think the victims are lying, then they can do a lot of harm without being detected. Because nobody believes the victim, patterns that should have tipped off those in authority are ignored.

But we can’t say that if the Catholic Church didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have any abusers.

2) The fact that it’s not excusively Catholic doesn’t excuse us

A victim won’t feel comfort over the fact that it was just as likely to happen elsewhere. The fact is it shouldn’t have happened here at all. Yes the numbers are statistically small. But even one case in 2000 years would be shameful. Even if the the world ignores everybody but us, we still have an obligation to fix our part in it.

3) Statutes of Limitstions have mostly run out

Why aren’t McCarrick and the priests named in the Pennsylvania report facing criminal charges? Because there is a time limit on how long the state has to press charges. While the limitations vary by state, few crimes have no limits. Murder is one of them. Others vary widely depending on the state. So, crimes dating from the 1940s to the 1980s (probably later than that) can’t be prosecuted.

One thing that gets brought up is why don’t the bishops support extending the statute of limitations? The problem is, under criminal law, extending the statute of limitations violates the Constitutional ban on ex post facto laws. Apparently the state can extend the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits. The problem is, the proposed laws excludes state run institutions. Public schools, the institutions with the highest rates of abuse, have been consistently been protected.

4) Vatican City can’t arrest and prosecute for crimes committed outside Vatican City

If McCarrick had committed his crimes in the Vatican, he could very well have been prosecuted there (like the Vatileaks). But they can’t prosecute him for crimes he committed elsewhere. All they can do is hold a canonical trial imposing Church sanctions. The problem is, if a person refuses to follow the sanctions, the Church can’t do anything except excommunicate him. If such a person doesn’t care about that penalty, the Church can only leave such a one to God.

5) Just because “everybody knows” something that doesn’t always mean the authorities know 

A few weeks ago I was listening to a NPR news story about sexual abuse from a school team doctor. The former student said that when he talked it over with fellow teammates, the general reaction was that this was something that the freshmen went through. It was treated like a big joke...but nobody reported it to authorities.

That came to mind when I heard the “everybody knew about it” regarding Catholic scandals. People may widely talk about it among themselves, but it doesn’t mean that they included the police among those they spoke to. It doesn’t mean that bishops were given usable information that they could act on.

I’m not saying this explains everything. There are reports of bishops who did knowingly try to hide the problem. Those bishops will need to have their actions addressed.

6) Not all bishops were involved in a deliberate coverup 

We know some bishops preferred to conceal the truth and move predator priests around. But not all did. Some seem to have thought that such behavior involved a fixation with a specific person and moving the priest away from the victim would end the crime. Some followed the advice of psychologists and had the priest treated, believing the experts when they said the problem priest was “cured.” Others became bishop after the problem was in place and were surprised to learn when a laicized priest under their authority made the news. Finally, we had the bishops who took action when they discovered problems.

Each of those cases involve different levels of culpability and how they are treated should reflect that.

7) One of the major problems seems to have been communication 

There are numerous stories going around about complaints being made that went nowhere. Whether they went to the right place but lacked actionable information, whether they got diverted en route, or whether there was another reason, it seems like problems in a country’s Church tended to be kept in country. In the Barrios case in Chile, the Pope seemed to sincerely believe that there was no credible evidence against him. Once he found out otherwise, he acted swiftly.

I’m of the view that, whatever reforms are made, we definitely need one that gets complaints to where they need to be with no possibility of being misdirected, concealed, or lost.

8) In some countries, there seems to have been mistrust over involving the state

In the 19th and 20th centuries, relations between Church and state were strained. There was mistrust against what the state might try to do if involved. The result was some bishops preferred to keep the state out. I have read that Ireland’s bishops decided not to report to the government because canon law did not require them to...something that needs to be corrected.

Yes, some governments exceed their rightful authority. Australia’s attempt to abolish the seal of confession is one example. Yes, the Church does have a right and responsibility to protect herself from that. But the Church does need to set out rules on cooperation with the state on reporting crimes that apply no matter what level of hostility the state has.

9) Real Reform takes time 

We live in a society that demands instant results. But often the instant results we demand turn out to be unjust once we have more information. We now know that certain procedures didn’t work and need to be reformed. But making good reforms without exploits will take time: time to investigate how things went wrong, time to investigate how to make them right, time to turn them into canon law. If we don’t do that, we’ll have to deal with more problems down the line.

10) The Church still must carry out the Great Commission and deal with other problems

When the Pope issues statements pertaining to issues other than the abuse scandal, some Catholics get angry. “He should focus on this and nothing else until it’s solved!” But that doesn’t work. The Church exists as Our Lord’s ordinary means of bringing salvation to the world. That means she must address other evils that endanger people’s salvation and teach us on things that we wrongly think are “unimportant” based on our ideology.

It means we must not drop important issues. For example, I think that archbishop Chaput is a good bishop for the most part. I found his Render unto Caesar very helpful in dealing with Church and state. But I disagree with his call to set aside the upcoming synod on youth and replacing it with a synod on bishops. Yes, we do need a synod on Bishops. But such synods take time—usually 2 years—to set up (see #9 above). In the meantime, the Pope realizes the need for a synod on youth, to keep them in the Church and out of the “nones” category. That’s a real issue that won’t go away while we work on the scandal.

Yes, people inside and outside the Church may accuse us of “ignoring” the abuse issue or “having no credibility now.” But the Church has to deal with these issues regardless of what scandals arise.


Nothing in what I write should be interpreted as supporting “business as usual” or not caring about the scandal. If someone believes I do, they have grossly missed my point.

But with all the anger out there, it seems that many on social media are not thinking things through. They assume the worst of the Church. Whoever does not say what the critics want them to say are “lying” or “stonewalling.” This article reflects my combox debates with angry people who seem to see only part of the issue.

Yes, let’s work for just reform according to the rights and responsibilities of canon 212.

But let us also be aware of things that the Church cannot ignore or neglect in carrying out reform.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Reform or Rebellion?

(Preliminary note: I am not writing about the very real pain of abuse survivors and their families. I am writing about combox warriors who are recklessly attacking the authority of the Church in the name of “reform.”)

The Church is the ordinary means the Lord uses to bring His salvation to the world (see CCC #738). It also consists of sinners in need of salvation, some of them doing some pretty wicked things or being indifferent to wrongdoing within their power to oppose. We have, on one side, Bible verses insisting that the Church teaches with His authority (Matthew 16:19, 18:18) and to reject the Church is to reject Him (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). On the other side, we have the Bible warning the shepherds of their faithlessness (Ezekiel 34:1-10) but also pointing out the obligations of obeying teaching authority while not following personal behavior (Matthew 23:2-3).

We have a Church that binds and looses with Our Lord’s authority, and a Church where the men who lead it can sin. These things are not contradictory. We believe that God protects His Church from teaching error in matters of faith and morals, but those who lead the Church still need to work out their salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). There is no guarantee that a successor to the Apostles will make wise decisions in governing his diocese, but he still has the authority to teach in a binding manner—provided that he remains in communion with the Pope. 

Now, it is true that clericalism is wrong. Clericalism tends to reduce a diocese or a parish to a fiefdom where the bishop or priest can arbitrarily act as he pleases, while members of the laity believe they have to accept it. Instead, the magisterium is the servant of, not master over, Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The Pope and bishops in communion with him pass on the teaching of the Apostles from generation to generation. Unfortunately, some members of the Church are confusing these things. They think that defending the magisterium of the Church is clericalism. A bishop teaching is not clericalism. A bishop becoming a law unto himself, setting aside his obligations, is clericalism.

Realizing that, the actions of a growing number of Catholics are dangerous. They confuse the teaching authority of their bishop with his sins. If the bishop did wrong (or is suspected of doing wrong), the mob says he has no authority and his fate should be decided by laity. I’ve seen some Catholics argue that we need lay leadership since the bishops can’t be trusted. I’ve even seen a priest call for an ecumenical council with full participation of the laity—which is to give them voting power—because he thinks bishops can’t be trusted.

Remember, I’m not talking about reactions to McCarrick or specific bishops who seem to have deliberately covered up a predator priest. I’m talking about attacks on the authority of The Bishops in general. The problem is, in attacking this way, they are undermining trust in the legitimate authority of the Church. This is the kind of thing that can lead to schism, rejecting the Church if it doesn’t respond to the scandals in the way the mob wants. That’s why, even though I want the Church to censure the wrongdoers, I think this movement goes in a direction I cannot support.

Going back to the Old Testament, we see that regardless of the wrongdoing of the leaders, the Lord also punished those who would usurp that authority which God had given them.

The Rebellions of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:1-35)
shows how God treats rejection of those He chooses to lead

Throughout history, we have had people angry at corruption in the Church. But some of the movements angry at that corruption wound up separated from Christ’s Church. I don’t think they set out to leave the Church. Rather, the Church not going the direction they wanted led them to decide the leadership was wrong and they were justified in rejecting them. I don’t think this current movement is at that point. I’ve seen some members affirm they intend to stay. But Luther also intended to stay. He didn’t. So, as St. Paul pointed out (1 Corinthians 10:12), “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”

No, we shouldn’t just accept any misuse of authority that a priest or bishop commits. Yes, let us make our needs known reverently, as canon 212 tells us. That can include serving the Church in finding just solutions to this evil. But let’s also remember canons 752-753 on authority. If we would be faithful to Jesus, we must hear His Church. 

Don’t accuse me of not caring about victims in writing this. I do care. This scandal has opened my eyes to failures to shepherd where I assumed common sense and policies should have been in place. We do have to get the filth out of the Church. But I believe that this internet apostolate of wrath is not going to solve the problem. Any true reform will keep the nature and teaching authority of the Church in sight. If it doesn’t, it’s not reform. It’s rebellion—and I will not participate in rebellion.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Pharisee and the... Bishop?

The Pharisee and the Publican. James Tissot (1894)

This will probably be a controversial article, but I think it needs to be said, lest we fall into the trap of focusing on the evil of others to the point of self-righteousness and judgmentalism. There is a lot of anger directed at the bishops—individually and in general—over the latest scandals. This is understandable. But it can also be dangerous if it tempts us to justify ignoring Our Lord’s teachings when an evil seems too much to bear.

I think we forget that the audience Jesus spoke to was an audience of victims. The Romans had conquered Judea, and were running it unjustly. Some of the Jews (like the tax collectors) collaborated with the Romans out of self-interest, enriching themselves at the expense of their own people. Hope was high for a messiah who would drive out the Romans and restore the Kingdom of Israel.

But that’s not the message Jesus preached. That’s not the reason Jesus came. He preached salvation from sin, and spoke of the need to forgive those who wronged us. He warned against attitudes of self-righteousness and judgmentalism, telling us not to assume our following the rules and not being as bad as others made us worthy of salvation.

Understanding this shows how scandalous Our Lord’s teaching was. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus tells us that the Pharisee—who sincerely kept the teachings of the Law—was not justified in God’s sight while the tax collector—who was viewed as a notorious sinner—was justified. The difference was one of attitude. The Pharisee spent his prayer time praising himself and judging others. The tax collector pleaded with God for mercy.

I think of this, watching Catholics on social media expressing sneering contempt for the bishops. There is an ugly, self-righteous demand for them to abase themselves and grovel for our forgiveness. There is an ugly contempt that considers them to be human garbage. There is an ugly belief that we, the laity, are superior to them.

But, following the theme of Jesus’ parable, if a sinful bishop echoes the prayer of the tax collector, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” it is he who leave justified while we will not. Does that shock you? It should, just like the parable shocked the Jews. Like us with the bishops, the Jews had to struggle with the thought that Jesus was turning a blind eye to real wrongdoing. But He wasn’t. He was pointing out the need for repentance...from each one of us!

We should remember Our Lord’s warning to the Pharisees: (Matthew 21:31) “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Our Lord picked out the two classes of people who were seen as the furthest from God. But repentant, they are closer to God than the proud. So we should beware: if we are proud and self-righteous, we might be horrified to hear: “the abusive priests and cowardly bishops are entering the kingdom of God before you.” 

No doubt people will angrily reply, “THEY AREN’T REPENTANT!” But this brings us to the (oft misquoted) “Judge not” of Matthew 7:1ff. No, Jesus wasn’t saying “don’t judge the morality of actions.” He was saying, “don’t judge the person’s soul or worthiness of salvation.” When we assume that the other is irredeemably evil unless they show repentance on our terms, we are violating Jesus’ teachings.

Nothing I have written above should be interpreted as ignoring or writing off real wrongdoing. Some have done things that require censure. But we must not forget that the Church has a mission to bring Christ’s salvation to all.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Incredibly, I have seen some say “we cannot show mercy,” or “there has to a limit to forgiveness.” But that flies in the face of The Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Scripture warns us (Matthew 6:15): “But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

Now leaving aside the cases of actual victims and their families (counseling these people goes beyond my wisdom, training, and experience, so I do not presume to tell them what they should do), I would remind my fellow Catholics of Ephesians 4:26–27: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” If we are letting our anger fester into revenge and wrath, we are creating an eight lane highway for the devil.

So yes, let us work for reform in the Church. But let us make sure that our work is free of sinful anger, and make sure the reform we work for is compatible with the Church Our Lord established and promised to protect.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Come What May, The Church Remains

The scandals have shaken the Church. McCarrick and the 300 priests who have credible accusations [§] against them abused their positions to molest children and that is inexcusable. Some bishops were more interested in avoiding scandal than in shepherding their flock. That too is inexcusable. The Church has a procedure to canonically investigate and try bishops and that should be done [†].

However, certain Catholics have taken it further. In their mind, all the bishops should have known and therefore cannot be trusted. They believe that only the laity can save the Church and demand that they lead the investigation, determine the fate of bishops, and have a say in their replacements. The implication is that since none can be trusted (unproven) they cannot lead us. It’s a very anticlerical movement that shows some people do not have a clear understanding of what the Church is.

Others have shown signs of believing that the Church is a simply human institution. I’ve seen parents say they weren’t sure if they wanted their children baptized and priests wonder if the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church (cf. Matthew 16:18). These too are a sign of people not understanding what the Church is. 

What we need to remember is the Catholic Church is the Church Our Lord, Jesus Christ, established and promised to protect, remaining with it until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). That doesn’t mean that the leaders of the Church will be sinless. Even in the best of times, there is corruption. Even with the holiest of Popes and bishops, there are bad decisions. That doesn’t mean we have to be fatalistic about the current crises in this time. Of course we have to work to clean up the Church. But regardless of corruption in the Church, Our Lord’s promise remains. Individuals sin, fall into heresy or schism. But Our Lord does not permit the Church to teach error in His name [¶] regardless of what some of the shepherds may do. 

Remembering this is how we discern true reform from rebellion. In every time of crisis, the true reform has come from those who gave submission to those tasked with leading the Church. False reform came from those who rejected that authority. In fact, the false reform usually spun off into heresies or schisms. 

What we need to remember is that the Church exists as the ordinary means [∞] Our Lord uses to bring His salvation to the world and help us discern how to live faithfully, and that He has entrusted the teaching office to the successors of the Apostles—the Pope and the college of bishops in communion with him. Our Lord made hearing His Church mandatory (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). So, when we encounter a movement which refuses or undermines the teaching authority of the Church, we know this movement is not of God.

I understand it is frustrating, especially since some bishops have been revealed as failing to look after their dioceses. How can we tolerate knowing that other bishops, guilty of similar things, may be undetected? The answer is, we must trust that even if a sinful priest or bishop should escape detection, God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). Our Lord’s warning about millstones (Matthew 18:6) should terrify them about dying unrepentant. We trust that God can and will protect the Church from going astray.

I admit that may be a small consolation for the victims and their families. They do want justice—rightly. But we need to realize that, being but men, our magisterium will not do a flawless job of rooting out corruption, no matter how diligent and sincere they are. For the rest, we must leave it up to God, painful as it may be.

So let us pray for the faithful clergy in this time of trial. Let us pray for the unfaithful clergy that they may repent and be brought to repentance and salvation. Let us pray for the victims, that they might be consoled. Let us pray that we act wisely and not out of sheer emotion. And then, after praying, let’s get to work—but let’s work with the Church, not against her.


[§] Barring any exculpatory evidence a la  the Cardinal Bernadin case—which I do not expect—I have no reason to question the credibility of the cases.
[†] As I understand it, the statute of limitations is past for criminal charges or lawsuits.
[¶] This protection is not “prophecy.”  It isn’t a guarantee of personal moral perfection either. Rather it is a negative protection. It prevents the Church from teaching error, but it doesn’t mean further development isn’t possible.
[∞] Ordinary means is the normal way Our Lord carries out His mission. There’s nothing to stop Him from using an extraordinary means, but it would be presumptuous on our part to knowingly refuse His ordinary means and demand something unusual to save us.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

TFTD: The Difference Between the Honorable One and the Knave

I read in the news today that six judges in North Carolina chose to resign their position rather than violate their consciences over the judicial diktat on so-called same-sex “marriages.” They recognized that they had an obligation when it came to choosing between doing what they were obligated to do before God and saving their jobs and going along with the flow.

In contrast, during the push to legalize same-sex “marriage,” of the proponents of same-sex “marriages", whether county clerks who illegally signed marriage licenses for same-sex couples (or refused to sign normal marriage certificates), or judges who equated their political views with what was constitutional, or governors who refused their sworn duty to uphold the law and refused to defend laws defending marriage . . . not one of them chose to resign. When it came to a choice between doing what they disagreed with or resigning, these people chose to go beyond their authority instead.

That’s the difference between an honorable person and a knave. One seeks to do what is right, even at great personal cost. The other abuses their authority in order to promote a cause.

Unfortunately, the knaves do not face any consequences for their actions.

When government officials can get away with abuse of power to promote their personal agendas, that’s how corruption and loss of freedom happens.

There’s irony when the people who truly follow their consciences are considered bigots who force their views on others, while government officials can push their agendas into law and are considered defenders of freedom.

We can be pretty sure that if these judges did not resign, but stayed in office and refused to comply with the law, they would face consequences.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Propaganda and lies: The Lie that Will Never Die

I see the usual comments following a news story about the Catholic Church – the Church is equated as being the biggest promoter of pedophilia.  It seems to be especially growing today with the American bishops taking a stand against the HHS mandate, abortion, gay "marriage" and other issues popular with one of the political parties but run counter to what the Catholic Church teaches.

In fact, it seems to be the modern version of Godwin's Law.  The modern version seems to be:

The longer an internet conversation goes on, the probability of someone invoking the Inquisition and the Abuse scandals approaches 1 – especially against someone who is defending the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

Some people may be wondering when this gross misrepresentation will die.  Most internet comments show a grossly misinformed public who believes that the Catholic Church, as a matter of official policy from the Pope down, deliberately tried to hide the abuse scandal, and a person might be thinking, that these people can't be uninformed idiots forever.

Unfortunately, they can.  History is full of gross misrepresentations about the Church.  The claim that the Church executed millions of people during the Spanish Inquisition, the claim that Pope Pius XII was pro-Nazi, the claim that the Church is anti-Science, etc.  The facts which show that these gross generalizations and so-called "common knowledge" are inaccurate can be easily be verified – but they are repeated nonetheless.

Just like these gross misrepresentations (some people actually claim over 100 million people were killed during the Spanish Inquisition– which would have been more than the population of Europe at the time), we'll hear all sorts of gross misrepresentations of how the abuse crisis was handled.

Of course in both the Inquisition and the abuse scandal, things were done that should not have been done and some bishops in the Church failed to shepherd the flock as they were obliged to do.  Catholics have no obligation to defend either the Inquisition or the way some bishops handled the Abuse scandals in their dioceses.  In fact we should not.

Rather, we do have the obligation to refute the gross misrepresentations which make it sound as if the brutality of the Renaissance era and the failure to protect the innocent children in modern times were due to a willful decision by the Catholic Church as official teaching.

These things shouldn't have been done , so nobody should try to justify wrong done.  But when someone acts as if all priests are abusers, they make the same kind of statement as "All Muslims are terrorists" or "all Hispanics are illegals" or "all Blacks are violent criminals."

Yes, some priests did abuse – and I pray we root them all out.  Yes some Muslims are terrorists.  Yes some Hispanics are illegals.  Yes some Blacks are criminals.


Not all of them are, and it would be unjust to label the whole because of individuals who do these things, or to claim that only these groups did these things.  There are atheist terrorists, Chinese illegals and white violent criminals, after all.

The attack on the Church (or the other stereotypes) is an example of the fallacy of the undistributed middle, drawing a universal conclusion from a limited group:

  1. Fr. Smith is a Priest (A is part of B).
  2. Fr. Smith is an abuser (A is part of C).
  3. Therefore priests are abusers (Therefore B is part of C).

The problem of course is that pointing out that A is related to B and C says nothing about how B is related to C.  In fact, there are several areas where the argument is flat out false, which can be shown in a Venn diagram:

Where allegation is false

If A = [Father Smith], B = [Abusers] and C = [Priests], the shaded part of B shows abusers who are not priests, while the shaded part of C shows Priests who are not abusers.  The point is, you can't argue from the fact that some priests were abusers that all of them are.  Nor could we say (if A = Bishop Smith, B = Those who cover up and C = Bishops) that the existence of some bishops who failed to report means the whole Church is guilty.

But this is the argument which is used to claim child abuse is  solely a Catholic issue and to argue that the whole Church is guilty.  I have seen countless times where some people try to argue that abuse is mainly committed by Catholic priests and that religious persecution is solely the provenance of the Catholic Church, when in fact instances of abuse within the Catholic Church is at similar rates to that of the Protestant churches and both are far less than in the Public School system.

This isn't a tu quoque argument made to excuse the Catholic Church.   Far from it – even if there had only been one case in the history of the Church, it still would have been one case too many.  Likewise, the existence of the excesses within the Inquisition is something that should sadden the faithful Catholic.  The point is, the claim that these things were exclusive to Catholicism is a lie.

Catholics need to remember never to give the impression of indicating that abuse is unimportant or sometimes not the fault of the abuser (as Fr. Groeschel regrettably did) when defending the Church from the growing myth.  Non-Catholics of good will need to realize that the rhetoric out there is grossly unjust in seeking to insinuate (or directly claim) that the sins of some priests who abused and some bishops who concealed does not indict the whole Church, nor that the Magisterium chose to make concealment an official policy, and to make that charge is as repugnant as the claim that all Blacks are violent criminals because some were arrested for violent crimes.

All people are called to seek out the truth and not to continue to repeat old charges without verifying the truth.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recommended: Article Rebutting Peggy Noonan

There is an interesting article where Peggy Noonan's WSJ articles on the Church and abuse are critiqued and shown to be in error, especially where she claims that the Church has done little and that only at the instigation of the media.

Given many people like to cite Noonan (using the fallacy of irrelevant authority) as a "Conservative Catholic" [arguing that she can't have an agenda]. I think the points made here should be considered.

You can see the article here.

A response to a conservative critic of Catholic Church | Spero News

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reflections on Obligation in the Church and Media

One of the main problems with the media coverage of the recent accusations against the Vatican is the unproven assumption that the Vatican not only knew of, but was indifferent to, the reports of abuse which they must have known of. This is a important error of assumption which needs to be examined.

Preliminary: The Difference Between ‘Ought’ and ‘Is’

So let’s start here as a preliminary. Media accusers seem to be making a profound error. This is the error over “ought” and “is.” Some of you may find discussions over linguistics to be dull. However, I think this needs to be stressed, as many of the attacks against the Church are based on the claim that the Vatican ought to have done X, but these attacks fail to consider what the actual events IS.

Ought can be defined as:

1      used to indicate duty or correctness.

†     used to indicate a desirable or expected state.

So one is correct in saying that Bishops ought to have reported abuse to the Curia and to the civil authorities. This is both the duty of the bishops and the expected state of affairs.

IS (the third person state of to be) can be defined as:

1. exist; be present

2. take place

3. having the specified state, nature, or role

So while ought indicates what is to be expected or required; IS indicates what has in fact happened. In order for OUGHT to equal IS, people must do what is required of them. I OUGHT to obey the laws on the speed limits. However, if I drive 70mph in a 55mph zone, what I ought to do is not what I actually do.

So how does this apply to the attacks on the Church? Quite simply, if the Bishop does what he ought in reporting abuse, then those he reports to are the ones to be held to blame if they do not do what they ought to do. However, if the bishop does not do what he ought (reporting the sinful priest), how can the Curia do what they ought to do? What the Bishop did (is) is different than what he ought to have done, and the expected state is hindered by the failure of the bishop.

This can work the other way. Prior to 2001, every accused priest (whose case was actually reported) was required to have an ecclesiastical trial. So the ought in this case is that the Church follows the rules it sets for fairness. Now the old rules did in fact need reforming, and they were reformed. However, one cannot change the rules in order to achieve a desired result. So when there were procedures which once took years to resolve, the Church was doing what it ought to have done in making sure the accusations were true, and making sure the penalty fit the action – provided that the bishops did their jobs in reporting it to them in the first place. If the Bishops did not do as they ought, how could the Curia do as it ought?

Analysis of the Media attacks

The media writes from the assumption that the Church willfully did not do as it ought to have done. This is the fallacy of equivocation in not defining what is meant by “the Church.” If one looks at the Church as a monolithic block, one looks at the Church wrongly. The Church is headed by the Pope in Rome, but the bishop is expected to be the episkopos (overseer or shepherd) of the diocese. He is expected to look after his people, looking after their spiritual well-being. This includes protecting them from the wicked among the ordained. Each diocese is made up of numerous parishes, with a pastor who is responsible for the well being of the people of the parish.

Understanding Subsidiarity

The Catholic Church, under the model of subsidiarity expects each part to handle things at their own level and the next level up intervenes only when there is a failure at the lower levels. Thus we see that the Pope does not deal with what liturgical music is used in a parish in California. Rather, his concern is over the whole Church. He could become involved in this hypothetical example if there was a significant crisis which affected the whole Church (say a popular hymn promoting a heretical teaching which needed to be stopped).

A chart of subsidiarity could look like this:

1. Pope (and the Curia) oversee the governing of the Church as a whole

2. Bishop oversees the governing of the Church in his diocese

3. Pastor oversees the governing of the Church in his parish.

If there is a failing in the parish, it is the task of the Bishop to correct it. If there is a failing in the diocese, it is the task of the Vatican to step in. Of course, there are different ways to handle a situation. Some are objectively better and some are objectively less good. Some of the individuals who are in the positions of authority are more competent and some are less competent.

An Analysis of Culpability

However, where condemnation is justified depends on the analysis of some things:

1. What was actually done in comparison to what one was obligated to do

2. What the person was obligated to know

3. What the motivation was for their acting

In other words the three things to be considered are, the act itself, the knowledge of the individual and the intent of the act. Each needs to be assessed. So let’s take a look at a hypothetical abuse case (I choose a hypothetical case instead of a real one because for purpose of analysis, we need to have a case where we know all the facts). Keep in mind that as a hypothetical case, I am not saying this is what happened in real life for any of the cases brought to our attention by the media. However, the principles I use here should be used to examine the media allegations. Only if the Vatican refuses to do its job can one say the “Vatican” did wrong. Of course this requires knowing what the Vatican is required to do compared to the Bishops and others.

Let us assume a case where a minor is sexually abused by a priest. The first step is to look at the bishop, right?


Obligations of the Victim

The first step is with the victim. If he or she does not report the abuse, then it is impossible for anyone who could take action to know this abuse takes place. So, if the individual stays silent instead of reporting it, we would have an act which was objectively wrong [failure to report makes it possible for a predator priest to continue victimizing others]. In such a case, we would have to look at the reasons for their actions.

Did they know they were obligated to report the abuse? If they did not know, and their lack of knowledge was reasonable [I would think this is a fair assumption. How many teenagers know what canon law is, let alone what it says], then their not reporting it due to ignorance could not be faulted.

Then there is the motivation for their inaction. Shame or fear or guilt are common tactics an abuser counts on to keep a victim silent. If the youth [wrongly] thinks it is somehow their fault, it is probable they will not recognize they are a victim, or even seek the help they need to recognize they were a victim.

On the other hand, if the victim stays silent because it seems too difficult to follow an obligation they know they have, this does hold some fault, as speaking out will protect others from being victimized. If a report is not made, the bishop cannot meet his own obligations on the matter.

Obligations of the Bishop

So let us assume that in the above case, when the victim does realize their obligation and does report it to the Bishop. Prior to 2001, the obligation to report it to the Vatican was limited to cases of solicitation in the confessional. After 2001, all cases were to be reported to the CDF.

Once the report is made to the bishop, he is obligated to investigate the claims and report it to the CDF if it is not immediately clear it is a false accusation. Now if the bishop does not report it (the act), the question is whether he knew of the duty. In this case, it seems unreasonable to assume the bishop would not know of the duty if he had been doing his job to begin with. So if a case was reported to him and if the case was credible, it seems a bishop could not claim invincible ignorance to his duties.

So when it comes to transferring a priest who was an abuser (which had tragically happened too often in the United States), we need to look at the motive. Did the bishop kick it under the carpet out of a motive such as careerism? Or did psychological experts of the time recommend that getting the priest away from the victim was the best solution? In these cases, the first obligation is wrong and condemnable. In the second, it would depend on whether or not the bishop acted in good faith. If the bishop at that time honestly and reasonably (for the time… we now know psychiatry erred on this) believed the psychiatrist was giving a professional medical verdict, his culpability might be considered lessened. If the bishop used the psychiatric evaluation as an excuse to transfer a predator priest to another diocese, knowing of recidivism culpability could be considered greater.

In other words, when considering the information the bishop had at the time he received the news was his actions, knowledge and intent in keeping with what was understood to be right?

In any case, the bishop always had authority to restrict or forbid a priest to practice their ministry for the good of the faithful. What he did or did not do would have to be assessed by the same standards.

Obligation of the Curia: Handling the Case

Let us assume that in this case, the obligations are met which require the case to be reported to the Curia and the bishop does so. What is the curia to do? Prior to 2001, it was the bishop who held the duty to handle the priest and report the results to the Vatican. After 2001, any reasonable charge had to be reported and the CDF would decide whether to take action itself or have the diocese take action. Prior to 2001, a trial was required. After 2001, a trial could be skipped if the evidence was overwhelming.

Now, ecclesiastical trials do take time, especially when one considers how small the Vatican curia are. For that matter, so do investigations of annulments sent to the Vatican. (See Morris West’s Shoes of the Fisherman for an example of how the pre-Vatican II Church was viewed on the subject). Evidence must be gathered, victims and accused must be interviewed, and a decision which is just must be made. Just for the accused and accuser alike. If it turns out the accused is innocent, he must not be punished. If he is guilty, the punishment must fit the crime.

For example: Was he a young priest who had a onetime fling with a 17 year old girl who was also interested in a sexual encounter with him? This is wrong of course, and even if the victim was willing, she would have been a minor and considered less able to make a decision. Or was he a predator, stalking youth and making many victims over a long period of time. Both are wrong of course. However the second case is far more serious than the first, and merits a harsher action… especially if in the first case the priest is deeply sorry for his act and in the second case the priest is unrepentant.

So before denouncing the Vatican for these things, we need to ask:

1. What were they made aware of?

2. What did they do in response?

3. How did that response match up to their obligation?

For cases where bishops did not report cases, the Vatican can hardly be blamed for this. In cases where they were notified, it requires us to know what was done to assess whether they did right or not.

This is where the media attacks on Pope Benedict XVI fall down. The review of the facts shows media attacks are based on the absence of information which is assumed to be indifference or squelching. Squelching a case (which the Pope has been accused of) is an action which requires evidence. Otherwise it is the argument from silence fallacy [We didn’t hear of anything, therefore nothing was done].

Before one can accuse the Vatican, the Pope or the CDF of blocking a case from moving forward, it must be proven. A case which took years prior to 2001 can move faster now. However, when it goes to trial (as I recall this was 20% of the cases), it can take time.

Obligation of the Church: Reforming Laws

Once it becomes clear that old laws are inadequate and have loopholes which the offenders can exploit, it becomes time to change those laws or rules. This is what happened in 2001 for example. It became clear that the old system allowed bishops to shift priests around without reporting it to the Vatican, so the new law made it mandatory to report the offender.

However, we must remember that just laws require time to draft. It is unfortunate that in a rush to punish the deserving we sometimes are tempted to skimp on justice in the name of “good.” However, in order to be good, a law must be just. This is why the Pope doesn’t just decree “OK, next person accused, send him to a monastery at the North Pole.” If a person is falsely accused, such a decree would be unjust.

The Catholic Church also has a mission of redeeming the sinner and calling them to repentance. If one seems truly repentant, the penalty necessarily differs from one who is unrepentant, and the Church, in her mission, must reflect the mercy and forgiveness Christ requires, without forsaking the justice Christ also requires.

Obligation of the Media: Accurately reporting

Peggy Noonan makes an error concerning the Catholic suspicion of the media. We are not angry that the media reported this at all.

We are justly angry over the attempts to smear the Pope by insinuating he willfully protected the guilty despite the evidence to the contrary. We are also justly angry over the fact that the media has portrayed the real cases of abuse and cover-ups as being more widely spread than the facts demonstrate.

This doesn’t mean the media has done no good whatsoever. In cases where certain bishops have been negligent, the media can do us a favor in bringing it to our attention. However, to be a real good, such media action requires a very different behavior from what has been shown so far. The media needs to understand what canon law teaches, and recognize that the Church governs itself with law, not arbitrariness. Getting a civil lawyer (often one who is suing the Church) to explain canon law is about as ridiculous as getting a Saudi Arabian lawyer to explain American Law.

The media is also obligated to report the facts without bias. Thus far, in media reporting of the abuse in 2002 and the recent attacks against the Pope, we tend to see agenda driven stories. Stories suggest the ending of celibacy or the admission of women priests as a required step for change. Calls for the “democratization” of the Church are common. The treating of dissenters from the Church as if they were objective commentators is also deceptive. Quite frankly, the media coverage of the Church displays a lack of interest or hostility to what the Church actually does. [This would be like asking one of these Tea parties to give an objective assessment of the Obama administration.]

The problem is the media cannot be objective if it approaches the story with an adversarial view. Being objective means reporting what is known. Being adversarial means challenging what one disagrees with or thinks is wrong. Now of course a reporter can disagree with the Church or think it ought to change. However, if the media brings these beliefs with it as an assumption behind the story, the story cannot be considered objective. The Church may have reasons why it cannot accept the personal beliefs of the reporter concerning important things. If the reporter does not consider this difference of view, his reporting will be flawed.


Ultimately the problem with the media coverage is not that they report that abuse happens, but that they draw unproven conclusions and present them as fact. As a result of media coverage, we are seeing polls where the majority seems to believe the Pope should be criminally tried, despite the fact that there is nothing more than unproven media allegations to base it on.

We Catholics are rightly angry at the jabs at the Church which claims to be objective reporting. One needs to be aware of their own biases when reporting. For example, I personally may not like Obama’s stand on Life and Moral issues, but this does not mean he can do nothing right. So when I write on moral issues concerning his administration, I do my best to keep my own political beliefs out of the analysis, hopefully succeeding and try to avoid writing on him when it does not involve issues which involve Catholic Moral Theology. [This is why I haven’t really commented on Tea parties and the like].

Ultimately, before writing the big exposé on the Church, the reporter and the media they work for needs to understand how the Church operates, reporting factually and not by misrepresenting the Church teaching or law.

If a priest or a bishop fails to do his duty towards what the Church requires, then yes report this and bring it to our attention. However, if the Church acts in a way different than the reporter would prefer based on his or her personal moral beliefs, to write a story without getting the facts straight is terribly unjust.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Of Course He Did Wrong

Source: Catholic Culture : Latest Headlines : Vatican cardinal praised French bishop for not reporting abusive priest to police

There are reports breaking over Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos praising a bishop in a letter for not turning over an abusive priest to authorities.  The priest was eventually sentenced (in 2000) to 18 years in prison.  The Bishop was given a three month sentence (suspended) for not reporting the event.

I have no doubt that some people will point to this event as "proving" the Church covered things up.  This would be false.  It seems Castrillón Hoyos wrote this (in 2001) on his own, in response to the news that the bishop received a suspended sentence from the state.

How do I justify Castrillón Hoyos?

I don't.  It's condemnable.  But he acted on his own, not as a part official Church policy.  So any attempts to link him to the Pope are groundless.

It's also false to link Castrillón Hoyos to covering up.  This letter was written after the priest was convicted.  Let's not misrepresent the situation.  What he did wrong was to call the wrongful acts of a bishop "good."  Yes, it is scandalous, and a black mark which will stand against whatever good he has done in his service to the Church.

However, he left his position in 2006, and retired in 2009, (before this story came to light).  So removing him from office is a moot point here.  Otherwise I would call for his resignation.

I don't know the context for his writing this letter, but it seems that, at the most charitable, he had grossly misplaced his loyalties and grossly misunderstood the situation.

However, let's keep this in perspective.  This doesn't provide any proof of the Magisterium covering up abuse, and indeed the 2001 laws strongly urged by the current Pope, did require all cases be sent to the CDF (which was not the case at the time of this incident).

So when the enemies of the Church wait eagerly for us to defend Castrillón Hoyos so they can attack us, they wait in vain.  Castrillón Hoyos did a terrible wrong in calling the bishop's action right.

However it would also be a terrible wrong to label his actions as an official action of the Church.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Noteworthy: CDF Clarifies Rules concerning Abuse

This press release from the Vatican today, clarifying the Church rules on sexual abuse reporting.  (If you go HERE you can get the press releases from the Vatican emailed to you)  I find it very informative.

The CDF Clarification: Text

VATICAN CITY, 12 APR 2010 (VIS) - Today the Vatican website, under the section called "Focus", published a guide to understanding the procedures of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on sexual abuse allegations towards minors.

Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations

The applicable law is the Motu Proprio "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela" (MP SST) of 30 April 2001 together with the 1983 Code of Canon Law. This is an introductory guide which may be helpful to lay persons and non-canonists.

A:  Preliminary Procedures

The local diocese investigates every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric.

If the allegation has a semblance of truth the case is referred to the CDF.  The local bishop transmits all the necessary information to the CDF and expresses his opinion on the procedures to be followed and the measures to be adopted in the short and long term.

Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.

During the preliminary stage and until the case is concluded, the bishop may impose precautionary measures to safeguard the community, including the victims. Indeed, the local bishop always retains power to protect children by restricting the activities of any priest in his diocese.  This is part of his ordinary authority, which he is encouraged to exercise to whatever extent is necessary to assure that children do not come to harm, and this power can be exercised at the bishop's discretion before, during and after any canonical proceeding.

B: Procedures authorized by the CDF

The CDF studies the case presented by the local bishop and also asks for supplementary information where necessary.

The CDF has a number of options:

B1 Penal Processes

The CDF may authorize the local bishop to conduct a judicial penal trial before a local Church tribunal. Any appeal in such cases would eventually be lodged to a tribunal of the CDF.

The CDF may authorize the local bishop to conduct an administrative penal process before a delegate of the local bishop assisted by two assessors. The accused priest is called to respond to the accusations and to review the evidence.  The accused has a right to present recourse to the CDF against a decree condemning him to a canonical penalty.  The decision of the Cardinals members of the CDF is final.

Should the cleric be judged guilty, both judicial and administrative penal processes can condemn a cleric to a number of canonical penalties, the most serious of which is dismissal from the clerical state.  The question of damages can also be treated directly during these procedures.

B2 Cases referred directly to the Holy Father

In very grave cases where a civil criminal trial has found the cleric guilty of sexual abuse of minors or where the evidence is overwhelming, the CDF may choose to take the case directly to the Holy Father with the request that the Pope issue a decree of "ex officio" dismissal from the clerical state.  There is no canonical remedy against such a papal decree.

The CDF also brings to the Holy Father requests by accused priests who, cognizant of their crimes, ask to be dispensed from the obligation of the priesthood and want to return to the lay state.  The Holy Father grants these requests for the good of the Church ("pro bono Ecclesiae").

B3 Disciplinary Measures

In cases where the accused priest has admitted to his crimes and has accepted to live a life of prayer and penance, the CDF authorizes the local bishop to issue a decree prohibiting or restricting the public ministry of such a priest.  Such decrees are imposed through a penal precept which would entail a canonical penalty for a violation of the conditions of the decree, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state.  Administrative recourse to the CDF is possible against such decrees.  The decision of the CDF is final.

C. Revision of MP SST

For some time the CDF has undertaken a revision of some of the articles of "Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis tutela", in order to update the said Motu Proprio of 2001 in the light of special faculties granted to the CDF by Popes  John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The proposed modifications under discussion will not change the above-mentioned procedures (A, B1-B3).

CDF/                                                                                                VIS 20100412 (720)           

The Significant Points, Analyzed

I find this an interesting Clarification in light of all the misrepresentations in the media.  Let's look at some of the crucial points.  (Church quote in blue, my comments in black):

  1. "The applicable law is the Motu Proprio "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela" (MP SST) of 30 April 2001 together with the 1983 Code of Canon Law. This is an introductory guide which may be helpful to lay persons and non-canonists."  This isn't a change of the laws.  It is explaining to people who are not canon lawyers how the Church procedures actually work.  Given the ignorance of the media in this issue, this is quite important.
  2. "The local diocese investigates every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric."  Quite important to clarify where the buck stops.  The buck stops with the Bishop.  The bishop who kicks things under the table is doing wrong.  Deciding arbitrarily who is credible is also wrong.  If an allegation is being made, it must be investigated.
  3. "If the allegation has a semblance of truth the case is referred to the CDF."  So if the initial investigation doesn't establish the claims as false, it must be sent to the CDF.  This is not optional.  This shows the responsibility of the diocese to inform, and not sit on the cases.
  4. "Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed."  Also crucial.  If a crime is reported to the diocese, it must pass it on as civil law requires.  (Civil law is in contrast to Canon law and not Criminal Law by the way.  The document, for example speaks of a "civil criminal trial.")
  5. The CDF has certain options in how the case is handled depending on the circumstances.  It can:
    1. "The CDF may authorize the local bishop to conduct a judicial penal trial before a local Church tribunal. Any appeal in such cases would eventually be lodged to a tribunal of the CDF."  If the Church decides the local tribunal can handle the case, the case is investigated there.  If the accused appeals, it would then go to the CDF.
    2. "The CDF may authorize the local bishop to conduct an administrative penal process before a delegate of the local bishop assisted by two assessors. The accused priest is called to respond to the accusations and to review the evidence.  The accused has a right to present recourse to the CDF against a decree condemning him to a canonical penalty.  The decision of the Cardinals members of the CDF is final."  The Bishop with two assessors may also try the case.  In this case, the CDF can still be appealed to,  The CDF decision is considered final.
    3. "Should the cleric be judged guilty, both judicial and administrative penal processes can condemn a cleric to a number of canonical penalties, the most serious of which is dismissal from the clerical state.  The question of damages can also be treated directly during these procedures."  The priest found guilty can be sentenced to different canonical penalties which can (but not necessarily must) be dismissed from the clerical state (which means the priest is forbidden to use those gifts which the sacrament bestows.  It does not mean the priest is stripped of the sacrament).
  6. "In very grave cases where a civil criminal trial has found the cleric guilty of sexual abuse of minors or where the evidence is overwhelming, the CDF may choose to take the case directly to the Holy Father with the request that the Pope issue a decree of "ex officio" dismissal from the clerical state.  There is no canonical remedy against such a papal decree."  So if the priest is convicted in a criminal trial, or the evidence is overwhelming, the CDF can take the case to the Pope to automatically strip the priest of his clerical state… no appeal possible here.
  7. "The CDF also brings to the Holy Father requests by accused priests who, cognizant of their crimes, ask to be dispensed from the obligation of the priesthood and want to return to the lay state.  The Holy Father grants these requests for the good of the Church ("pro bono Ecclesiae")."  So if the Pope deems it for the good of the Church, priests who admit their guilt can (not necessarily will) be returned to the lay state (which means they are released from their vows and can marry.  They still have the gifts granted by the sacrament but are forbidden to use them).
  8. "In cases where the accused priest has admitted to his crimes and has accepted to live a life of prayer and penance, the CDF authorizes the local bishop to issue a decree prohibiting or restricting the public ministry of such a priest.  Such decrees are imposed through a penal precept which would entail a canonical penalty for a violation of the conditions of the decree, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state.  Administrative recourse to the CDF is possible against such decrees.  The decision of the CDF is final."  This is important in light of all these bogus "Pope stalls defrocking" headlines.  A priest who admits his crimes can be ordered to live a life of prayer and penance, where the Bishop issues a decree where the priest is restricted or prohibited from practicing their ministry.  If the priest violates the conditions, he can suffer additional penalties or even dismissal.  The priest who is treated unjustly can appeal, but what the CDF decides in such a case is final.


This document shows the rush to judgment by the media demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the Church procedures.  There is a procedure which must be followed.  The most serious cases can result in automatic dismissal by the Pope or the CDF automatically.  Other cases can be judged by the diocese and appealed to the CDF.

The penalties do not have to automatically be dismissal from the clerical state (often wrongly called "defrocking").  The priest can be limited or forbidden to practice their priestly ministry if the circumstances warrant it.

This is interesting to note.  The media labels anything which is not a dismissal to be a "cover up," but in the rules of the Church, the penalty fits the crime and is aimed at bringing the sinful priest to repentance.

When this is kept in mind, the accusations of the bishops wanting dismissal and the Vatican "covering up" are baseless.  In most cases, the Diocese hears the case and sets the penalty, keeping the CDF informed.  In such cases, a diocese seeking to pass on the case assigned to them are guilty of "passing the buck."  In serious cases, the CDF can handle it directly or send it up to the Pope with the recommendation to dismiss the offender.

In light of this, the Church condemnations in the media demonstrate a profound lack of understanding of the Church procedures and a lack of interest in finding out what the Church requires.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Freedom to Express Your Views – Unless You Are Catholic?

There seems to be some shoddy reasoning going around the Internet regarding Catholics in the political arena.  Generally, the attacks are along the line that those who are Catholic either have no right to participate in the arena due to the sins of some of her members, or else that whenever the Church speaks out, it is imposing an ideological agenda on the rest of the nation.

Neither one of these ideas have any basis in reason, but are instead making an appeal to emotion, using charged words to frighten or anger people.  In the past, it was the "Catholic politicians are taking orders from Rome."  Now it is, "Catholic politicians don't have to listen to the Church, and if they are acting according to what they believe is right, it means the Church is controlling them."

Let's look at some of the errors of assumption.

PART I: "Clean up your own Mess first."

There are many variants of this attack.  Right now, it is the false reports of the cover-ups which are being thrown in our faces.  There have been others in the past.  The Galileo case was used for quite a long time when the Church spoke on the moral issues of science.

The main flaw with the argument is that even if the charges are just (and they certainly aren't in this case), it has absolutely no bearing on whether one should speak out on another related issue.  It's an ad hominem attack, akin to the defense lawyer seeking to remove the credibility of a mob informer by pointing out he is a criminal.  Very true, he is a criminal.  However, that has no bearing on whether or not his information is true.

It is also poisoning the well.  A negative example is used to poison the minds against whatever the opponent says instead of considering the facts of the matter.

Finally, it is a Red Herring, in that it actually is irrelevant to the case at hand.

So let's take a real example, the issue of Nancy Pelosi voting in a way which entirely defies Church teaching.  One person who agrees with Pelosi argues to the effect of, the Church should clean up its own mess before trying to tell others how to live.  That the Church may need to clean up a scandal is true.  However, it is entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand: Nancy Pelosi is a Catholic voting in a way which is in defiance of what the Church she professes to be a member of actually teaches.

Really, this kind of attack is just a cheap shot to appeal to the emotions of the audience.

PART II: "The Church shouldn't tell others how to vote."

This argument is essentially a straw man fallacy.  The Church isn't telling people how to vote.  Rather, the Church is saying that if one professes to be a Catholic they are required to live in accordance with the teachings of the Church.  Now a person may not be automatically excommunicated if they do not, but the Church can exact penalties aimed at bringing the erring Catholic back to the proper understanding of what Christian behavior.  Pelosi is free to go on voting to kill unborn infants of course.  The Supreme Court made it legal, and that is unlikely to change.  However, she does not have the right to call her behavior Catholic, and the Church does have the right to tell her, that she either follows Church teaching or change her religion.

Of course this brings us to another objection some pose: That the politician votes in order to represent the population which elected him or her, and therefore cannot do anything different.

This sounds nice of course, and Mario Cuomo exploited it back in the 1980s.  The problem was, Cuomo often did other things (like commute death sentences) against the will of the people who elected him… Cuomo, in those cases, because he felt them the right thing to do.  Let's not get sidetracked here on the issue of the Death Penalty and abortion.  In terms of this article, Cuomo invoked the will of the voters only when it suited him.

There is a third attack which is often used: The Church moral teaching is often treated as a narrow ideology, and when the Church opposes a certain policy (for example, so-called Homosexual marriage), Catholics are told that their view is pushing ideology on people who don't believe it.  [Cuomo also used this excuse when he made his "personally opposed but…" argument.]

The irony here is that we could easily use the same argument against the proponents of homosexual marriage.  It is something new which a small group of radicals are trying to foist on the people of a state.

Exactly who decides what is justice and what is ideology?  Unless there is an absolute we can look to, any person can label their opponent's position as "pushing their views on others."  So Muslims in certain nations oppress women, and the West is considered trying to push a decadent ideology on them.  South Africa in the apartheid era and China in terms of its dissidents today accused the West of interfering with their own values.   ALL of these examples were quite real.

So here is the flaw with the "pushing ideology" argument.  Unless there is a set of moral absolutes to begin with, everything is an ideology and the strongest can impose their will, while the others are suppressed.

Now this view may seem fine when it is your view on top.  The problem is, if anyone can use this argument, you have no argument if an Islamist government or a Fascist [in the sense of the philosophy of fascism, not what liberals label moderate conservatives as] government imposes their views on you.


The examples I gave in this article are quite common on the internet, and are being used to negate the rights of Catholics from practicing their freedoms of speech, religion and others, making use of logical fallacies and shoddy appeals to emotions to make people fear the old Nativist view of Catholicism as a power just waiting to take over America and make it a property of the Pope.

Personally, I'm tired of it.  If a person honestly thinks the Catholic Church is wrong on an issue, they have the right to use their freedom of religion and freedom of speech as well.  Such a person does NOT have the right to deprive Catholics of these rights.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Contradictory Reports: The Case of Fr. Jeyapaul

Sources: Vatican covered up abuse in Minnesota, lawyers say -,

The Associated Press: Priest accused of US abuse won't fight extradition,

Vatican lawyer's statement on Indian priest | National Catholic Reporter

I find it interesting to see how the newest reports of abuse come tailored to overcome the challenges to the previous story.  In face to the rejections of the Milwaukee story, we now see a case come forward which took place after the new rules came into effect, seeking to imply that the old practices are still in play.

The facts of the matter seem to be somewhat different.

What is Alleged

The allegations is that priest Fr. Jeyapaul abused two teenage girls during his time in Minnesota.  One of them was reported to the diocese just before he left for India, while the other seems to have come forward after the priest had left America.

The claim is that the CDF was notified of the abuse but did nothing.  CNN and ABC reports that Cardinal Levada did nothing.

What is not Mentioned

What the stories do not mention is that when the Vatican was notified, it contacted the diocese in India and recommended the priest be laicized.  Most of the stories do not mention the priest is not contesting extradition to the United States to stand trial.  Nor do they mention that it was the Vatican which reported to authorities where he was to be found. 

It seems the diocese in India did not laicize the priest but gave a lesser penalty.

The Vatican attorney in the US, Jeffery Lana made this statement:

The decision regarding the canonical penalties imposed upon Father Jeyapaul was made by the Bishop of Ootacamund, whose diocese is located in the Nilgiris district of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested in this matter that Father Jeyapaul agree to laicization, demonstrating that the Congregation believed that the accusations were serious enough to merit dismissal from the clerical state. However, as a matter of longstanding canon law, such decisions are made by the local bishop, who is deemed to be generally in the best position to adjudicate the case relating to the priest in question.

It is important to note that the canonical proceeding involving Father Jeyapaul was wholly separate from any pending civil or criminal proceeding. The Holy See has cooperated with the requests of law enforcement authorities seeking the extradition of Father Jeyapaul to the United States, and in fact provided his exact location in India to assist such efforts.

It is interesting that these facts were not reported in the Mainstream Media.

The Significance for the Media

The media is reporting something untrue [The Vatican was covering up] as if it were true, omitting facts which go against the attacks on the Pope and the Vatican.  This is entirely unethical of course.  Fair and accurate reporting requires giving all the facts, and not merely one slanted side of it to promote an agenda.

The fact that the reporting continues to "evolve" in the face of news stories being debunked indicates not a concern for victims of abuse, but a desire to attack the moral authority of the Catholic Church.

The fact that the media has not really reported the actions of the Church, but instead seek to employ an argument from silence fallacy [The Minnesota diocese did not know the events in India.  Therefore the Vatican did nothing] to claim inaction or coverup. 

These two charges are contradictory of course.  The first would be inaction.  The second would be action to conceal.  Meanwhile reports indicate the Vatican neither was inactive nor concealing.

The media could have been defenders of the truth if it had reported this story fairly.  In that case it would have done a good service in helping the Church be aware of further repairs to the system it needed to implement.  Instead it attempted to portray this whole incident as the fault of the Vatican.

This leaves us with this question: How much trust can we place in the media to fairly and accurately report abuse allegations?

If the media is supposed to be serving us by reporting these things, I believe we can validly ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who polices the police?)

Significance in Legal Terms

Also in terms of the accused priest, it is important to make sure justice is done.  We have reports of abuse.  It has not yet been established the abuse is true.  If it is true, of course justice requires the priest should face the legal consequences.  If it is not true, justice requires his name be cleared.  Trial by media should not be tolerated however.

Significance for the Church

What troubles me in this case is that there seems to be more room for reform of the current system.  That a bishop can choose to ignore what the CDF suggests in terms of laicization indicates that the Code of Canon Law can use reform to prevent this in the future.  If the priest was in fact guilty of what he was accused of, clearly the diocese in India erred in the position he was given.  However, the Vatican did not cover up, though it would need to strengthen its laws for the future.

It is good to see they did recommend laicization and to see they did cooperate with the authorities to bring the priest forward.  However, this case indicates that perhaps we need to institute a policy where the CDF can override the decision of the Bishop in such cases. 

Of course we need to be certain that such an action does not remove the rights of the accused for a fair hearing as well, and does not create a bottleneck which slows cases down so much that the delay enables injustice.


Contrary to media claims, this is not a failure on the part of the Church.  Rather it shows us how the system currently works, and gives us evidence of further reforms the system needs to make in terms of procedure and tightening up canon law.  The Church needs to investigate where weakness is in the current system and make sure future cases cannot exploit the same situation.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Change of Tactics: Taking Offense at our Being Offended

I'm noticing a change of tactics on the internet. With the NYT essentially discredited, except among the mob, I am seeing an approach of "taking offense with our being offended."  Essentially, the fact that many Catholics did take offense with the attempts to smear the Pope is being twisted into meaning that Catholics didn't care when abuse happened, but only care because the Pope is the target.

This is a false charge.

The cases in which the Pope was attacked involved cases where the case had long since been resolved but the media had insinuated that the cases had taken a long time to resolve because of the actions of Pope Benedict XVI.

Yes, there have been abusers among the priests.  Yes I am sure that some of them have escaped the dragnet going through the Church.  Yes I believe that a hundred years from now, some abuser will have found his way through the safeguards the Church may have set in place.  It is the tragic consequence of sin that some men may seek to use the priesthood to carry out vile acts.

However, just because Catholics are ashamed of those abusers and the bishops who concealed the problem rather than coming forward with it does not mean we forfeit the right to demand a truthful reporting of the scandals when they come forward.

The attacks of the New York Times and London papers, as well as the smaller papers who carried these stories, did not report these stories truthfully.  American libel laws, concerning a "public figure" makes it unlikely that the NYT will ever suffer legal consequences for their actions of course [New York Times Co. vs. Sullivan established that the statement must have been published knowing it to be false or with reckless disregard to its truth ("actual malice") — which makes it almost impossible to prove].

Catholics have a right to be angry at the gross misconduct of the media in this case.  This does not mean we don't care about the fact that victims suffered.  It means we do not believe that the abuse cases which exist permits the Church to be treated unjustly.

I expect that ultimately we will see the myth of "the silence of Benedict XVI" arise despite the truth.  However, why not watch the comments in the various internet discussions.  How many times will the accusation come that we do not care about the victims, but only for protecting the Pope?

What scares me the most of this sort of attack is how closely it mirrors the statement of a European Ruler in the 1930s.  "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it."

That ruler was Adolf Hitler

An Enemy is a Friend Who Wants to Kill You? Reflections on Noonan's Defense of the Media

Sources: Peggy Noonan: The Catholic Church's Catastrophe -

Anti-Benedict Media Sharks: Best Friends *and* Enemies? | Blogs |

Peggy Noonan is a Catholic, former Reagan speech writer and an author (she wrote a book on John Paul II) who generally seems to be loyal to the Church.  So when it comes to her criticisms, it is clearly a different case than the New York Times or the attacks of "Cafeteria Catholics."

Reading her article, The Catholic Church's Catastrophe I am inclined to think that she fundamentally misses the point regarding Catholic's anger over the recent attacks.

Her thesis seems to be essentially:

In both the U.S. and Europe, the scandal was dug up and made famous by the press. This has aroused resentment among church leaders, who this week accused journalists of spreading "gossip," of going into "attack mode" and showing "bias."

But this is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press—the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe—has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn't be saying j'accuse but thank you.

This is the fallacy known as Non causa pro causa. The reason I think she is wrong is that she makes an error over what the case is about.  It is not about denying any sort of abuse took place.  It is not about the fact that some bishops did horrible wrong in kicking it under the carpet instead of following the Church rules on the subject at the time the abuse was known.  It is not even about whether some cases were handled in a way slower than should have been.

The reason there is anger from Catholics over the media bias is that in the recent news stories of Milwaukee, Munich and Arizona, there was a concerted effort to attack the person of Pope Benedict XVI with no evidence in favor of, and in fact much evidence against, their claim.

Noonan, in attributing anger over the false attacks against the Pope as anger over reporting abuse at all is attributing a non-cause as a cause.

An Enemy Is A Friend Who Wants To Kill You

I also think Noonan errs over the claim that the media forced "the Church" to deal with the issues.  She says:

Without this pressure—without the famous 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight series with its monumental detailing of the sex abuse scandals in just one state, Massachusetts—the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century, which is look away, hush up, pay off and transfer.

However, the facts are against her.  In Milwaukee, the case was moving forward until the time of the death of the defendant.  In Arizona, the priests accused were suspended and barred from priestly ministry and had appealed the verdict, taking several years to resolve. In Munich, the vicar general made a decision on his own behalf without consulting then Archbishop Ratzinger.

Indeed, Noonan seems to be making a fallacy of equivocation here.  "The Church" was indeed working on this before the 2002 scandal of Cardinal Law.  She could perhaps say that the Church in America was forced to confront the issue, but this is a far different issue than the accusing of Pope Benedict.

The Principle of Subsidiarity

The thing is, the Church operates under the principle of Subsidiarity, which is described in the Catechism as:

1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

1884 God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.

In the idea of subsidiarity, the higher gets involved in the affairs of the lower when there is a failure in the lower to police itself.  This is what the Church did, once reports of the abuse began crossing its desk.  It reformed its former rules on the subject.

One could make a case that certain media reports helped alert the Magisterium to a breakdown in subsidiarity in the lower levels in America, however, I suspect that the media did not have as big a role as Noonan thinks.

The media may have publicized it.  However, it does not follow that they caused the investigations to begin.  The issue of course is the objectivity of the media.  There were 3,000 cases dating back to 1950 which had to be investigated.  Much of the media had made it sound as if there were many more cases annually.

If The Media Is Alarmed Over Abuse, Why Does It Ignore the Largest Offender?

I think it is a valid charge that the public schools has a exponentially larger number of cases of sexual abuse of minors, and doesn't pick up a fraction of the coverage, even though the Church has put in place of protections the public schools still lack.  Such behavior speaks against concern for victims of sexual abuse and speaks more for bias in the media in an attempt to attack the whole Church.

This is not a tu quoque of course.  The evils in the Public schools do not make for a defense of abusers in the Church.  However, if the media is concerned about the children, why does it continue to report on old cases within the Church instead of reporting on the ongoing problems within the public schools and the utter lack of reform and the ongoing practices which the Church is in the process of eliminating.

The fact that the media continues to report on cases from the 1950-2000 era even though the Church has reformed itself and is clearing the backlog of cases, and ignores the schools utter lack of reform seems to indicate an agenda.

If the Church Makes a Policy Change and Nobody Reports it, is it still the fault of the Church?

That kind of coverage was not helpful, and in fact obscured the real issues to be dealt with.  The Church made a careful investigation at the time the media was making accusations of stonewalling, and policies were enacted.  People with homosexual tendencies were restricted based on the investigation into those most likely to be victimized.  Rules were made concerning the policies to be carried out in parishes and dioceses.

Much of the time, the media made much of the charges, but said almost nothing of the Church actions in response to the abuse.  Were it not for the Catholic media reporting, nobody would have been aware that the Church had acted.

The Media is Hardly a "Friend"

Mark Shea writes an article about the view that the media is the friend of the Church which brings home all the flaws of the defense of the media in the latest frenzy.  In it, he writes:

Look.  I can grant that *God*, who orders all things for the good of those in Christ Jesus, can use bitter enemies of the Church to bring about redemption and healing.  But please: let’s make up our mind.  Are journalists who do slipshod hatchet jobs on Benedict “the Church’s best friend” or are they “enemies of His people”?  I think it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that, whatever God may have in mind, the authors of this war on Benedict do not regard themselves as “best friends of the Church” and that the self-congratulation of journalists for their shoddy reportage is as repulsive as the self-congratulation of abusers who lectured their victims to sit there, shut up and take it due to the abusers’ sanctity as priests and as mediators of Truth.  Spare me.

It is an excellent point.  The Holy Week attacks on the Pope were not done with the good of the Church in mind.  The attacks attempted to link the culpability of those who had in fact done evil (the abusers) with Pope Benedict XVI — without a shred of proof.

Shea goes on to write:

But please. This group of frenzied MSM sharks bent on destroying Benedict and engaging in their annual Holy Week Church Bash on the flimsiest charges are not the Church’s"friends”, nor do they give a tinker’s damn about the good of the Church or abused children who are not usefully Catholic.  You might as well tell me that Mehmet Ali Acga (whom these sharks did not fail to consult for his expert opinion) was just trying to help John Paul II grow closer to Christ Crucified when he shot him.  Jimmy Akin has methodically taken apart the NY Times crapalicious reporting.  Real “friends” at the Times (London and New York) would acknowledge they did a lousy job and apologize (as for instance, NBC did when they libeled the Pope as a child molester).  Enemies, however, admit nothing.  And enemies of the Church is just what these people act like.  God will, of course, bring life out of the sins of pervert priests, bad bishops *and* bad reporters.  But with the exception of a few journalists with actual integrity and knowledge of the facts like John Allen, the spectacle leading up to the annual MSM Bash Christianity for Holy Week Fest has been a depressingly ignorant and ideology-driven affair.  To be sure, what the MSM meant for evil, God means to turn to good.  But they do indeed, largely mean to do evil in this recent spate of hatchet jobs on Benedict.

This is the difference between enemies and friends.  If the attacks were made in good faith, those who made these reports would have acknowledged their errors and corrected them.  The media in these cases did not do this.

Conclusion: Why Noonan Erred

This is why Noonan has erred in her claims that the media is the friend of the Church, even though she seems to seriously believe it.  By falsely linking the justified investigations of actual abusers with the attempts to insinuate Pope Benedict XVI was guilty, she makes a false accusation that those of us who are angered at the attacks on the Pope are actually angry that abuse was reported at all.

The truth is, we would not be angered at objective reporting, and the admission of errors made in this reporting.  We do object to the smearing of our Pope and the attempts to push an ideology onto the Church using the abuse cases as an excuse [The inevitable calls for women priests and the end of celibacy among other things].

Shea is correct: God may use these attacks for good (it certainly woke up American Catholics to the problems within the American Church).  However, let's knock off the claim that the media did good because change happened.  That's a post hoc fallacy.  Change happened because the Church cared about what happened, and change was happening even before the 2003-2004 reporting of the abuse scandals.

[Edited to correct a typo which changed the meaning of one sentence from what I intended]