Times v. Benedict Redux

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Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but Mollie Hemingway’s latest defense of the critics of the Goodstein/Halbfinger story in last Friday’s New York Times shouldn’t go unanswered. According to Hemingway, the the critics assert (and she agrees)

that it is false to say, as the Times alleges, that the 2001
action by Pope John Paul II was not a major turning point in
rationalizing the Church’s response to clergy sexual abuse. And they’re
saying it’s false to say Benedict clearly had power to act and didn’t
and that he was part of the problem in the Curia.

Here’s what Goodstein and Halbfinger actually alleged:

But church documents and interviews with canon lawyers and bishops cast
that 2001 decision and the future pope’s track record in a new and less
flattering light.

The Vatican took action only after bishops from English-speaking nations
became so concerned about resistance from top church officials that the
Vatican convened a secret meeting to hear their complaints — an
extraordinary example of prelates from across the globe collectively
pressing their superiors for reform, and one that had not previously
been revealed.

And the policy that resulted from that meeting, in contrast to the way
it has been described by the Vatican, was not a sharp break with past
practices. It was mainly a belated reaffirmation of longstanding church
procedures that at least one bishop attending the meeting argued had
been ignored for too long, according to church documents and interviews.

Was 2001 “mainly a belated reaffirmation of longstanding church procedures”? Yes it was. That’s not to say that the CDF didn’t start looking busy. But it’s also the case that prior to 2001 Cardinal Ratzinger, as Benedict then was, had power to act in abuse cases during his two decades as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And, as I’ve pointed out, his exercise of such power as he understood the CDF to have was less than impressive. In the best documented case we have, he acted to slow the process to a crawl.

Yes, there seems to have been a good deal of uncertainty about exactly what the rules were. That’s exactly the point. As the current archbishop of Adelaide, Australia, told the Times, “There was confusion everywhere.” Ratzinger was the guy in charge of the CDF–i.e. he was “part of the problem in the Curia.”

Hemingway does signal appreciation for canon lawyer Nicholas Cafardi’s assessment in what she takes as a defense of the Times piece by Grant Gallicho over at dotCommonweal. Deep down in the lively back-and-forth is a lengthy comment (copied after the jump) from Jim Jenkins, who chaired the San Francisco abuse review board after the sexual abuse scandal rocked the American church into action in 2002. It’s cautionary evidence for anyone persuaded that after 2001, Ratzinger’s CDF had entirely gone over to the side of the angels.

Nicholas Cafardi gives a very lawyerly account of how it all went
terribly wrong legally (canonically speaking) for the Vatican in its
handling of the priests sex abuse scandal.

You get the impression that if only those fumbling career politicians
in the Vatican had followed their own canon law, things could have been

I have a decidedly less sanguine view of the Vatican’s management
approach and its use of canon law to insulate itself from taking the
only morally defensible response to the rape and sodomy of children.

Despite what Cafardi claims, the debate among and between the Vatican
curia and American bishops about the statute of limitations in canon
law regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests was still going on
in 2002.

I know this is so because [now Cardinal] William Levada told me so
after his return from Rome from consultations at the Inquisition (now
the CDF) where then Cardinal Ratzinger was still running the show.

The San Francisco Review Board, of which I was then the chair,
specifically requested that Levada convey to the curia our great
distress over the possibility that the statute of limitations that would
govern our investigations be anything but the American legal standard.

Our fear was, I believe justifiably, the public would never
understand and further undercut any credibility of review board

There was also pushback from the Inquisition about what would
constitute majority age for males and females, the canonical or the
American legal standard. The Review Board was equally adamant about
using the accepted American standard of 18 years of age.

These were not insignificant points of contention. If the canonical
standards were used (which Cafardi confirms were still being debated
within Vatican circles), this would have meant effectively that most
allegations of sexual abuse against priests were mute (as far as canon
law were concerned), and never would warrant any further investigation
by the church’s review boards across the US.

Levada reported to us on the SF Review Board that it was the opinion
of the Inquisition that canon law should always supersede American law.

Ratzinger and his allies in the curia were maneuvering to render all
of the investigations of the Review Boards worthless before they even
got started. Little did we then know that the hierarchy never had any
intention of ever conducting independent and unvarnished investigations
of sexual abuse by priests.

One of the architects of the so-called “Dallas Charter,” the Rev.
Gregory Ingels, [canon lawyer and former SF chancellor for Levada]
himself eventually indicted by a Marin County grand jury for the rape
and sodomy of adolescents, predicted to me personally that canonical
charges against him would never stand because of the prescriptions in
canon law regarding statute of limitations and the majority age of males
and females.

My recollection of Levada’s report of his consultations at the
Inquisition was that the curia was not too pleased with the “zero
tolerance” approach either adopted by American bishops at their Dallas

Face it, with Ratzinger running the show at the Inquisition, and now
as pope, there was never any intention to deal forthrightly with the
abuse scandal on the part of the Vatican hierarchy.

The Vatican hierarchs were engaged in a calculated strategy of delay
and dissemination in hopes that they could eventually survive the tidal
wave of scandal that has swamped their leadership.

How’s that working out for them?

I’m glad that Cafardi thinks that “Vatican canonists” have “a lot of
explaining to do.” But, isn’t that what “Ricky Ricardo” used to say on
the old “I Love Lucy Show” after one of Lucy’s comic stunts exploded in
her face.

The problem, of course, is that the rape and sodomy of children by
priests and bishops never has, and never will be, comical.