Irish Archbishop Speaks Candidly on Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal

While many bishops and priests have closed ranks when faced with the extent of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, has consistently spoken clearly and directly.

This week Martin spoke at the Marquette University Law School’s conference titled “Harm, Hope and Healing: International Dialogue on the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal,” as part of the school’s restorative justice program. “Archbishop Martin said what many Catholics want to hear, and they haven’t heard it from their Catholic leadership,” said Janine Geske, a professor at the law school who heads its Restorative Justice Initiative, in the National Catholic Reporter.

Also this week, Presbyterian pastor Peter James Vienna Presbyterian Church in Virginia stood before his congregation and acknowledged that the sexual abuse by a youth director was “far more devastating and horrific than we had imagined.” A row of young women, part of at least a dozen women who had been victimized over a four year period, sat in a back pew as James apologized.

“We failed as leaders to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed,” James said, publicly acknowledging the church’s failings for the first time. “Some of you felt uncared for, neglected and even blamed for this abuse. I am sorry. The church is sorry.”

Below are highlights from Archbishop Martin’s presentation. It needs to be read by far more than just Catholics.

I tell these events not to re-open history, but to illustrate just how difficult it is to bring an institution around to the conviction that the truth must be told. All institutions have an innate tendency to protect themselves and to hide their dirty laundry. We have to learn that the truth has a power to set free which half-truths do not have. The first condition for restorative justice is that all parties are willing to tell the truth and to take ownership of the truth, even when the truth is unpleasant. As I said at a recent liturgy of lament in Dublin: “The truth will set us free, but not in a simplistic way. The truth hurts. The truth cleanses not like smooth designer soap but like a fire that burns and hurts and lances”. ..

I still cannot accept a situation that no-one need assume accountability in the face of the terrible damage that was done to children in the Church of Christ in Dublin and in the face of how that damage was addressed. The responses seemed to be saying that it was all due to others or at most it was due to some sort of systems fault in the diocesan administration. …

But even those numbers, though shocking, have not got the right focus. Statistics are too often offender-focussed. We have to set out from the standpoint that the person who was at the epicentre of abuse was not the priest, but the victim, a child. A restorative justice approach would have to re-orient the way we draw up not just our statistics but our pastoral care. One victim constantly reminds me that the stern words of Jesus in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 18:6) about the “great millstone” to be fastened around the neck of anyone who becomes a stumbling block for the “little ones”, are quickly followed (Mt 18:12) by the teaching on the Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one who has been lost. …

The culture of clericalism has to be analysed and addressed. Were there factors of a clerical culture which somehow facilitated disastrous abusive behaviour to continue for so long? Was it just through bad decisions by Bishops or superiors? Was there knowledge of behaviour which should have given rise to concern and which went unaddressed? …

A restorative justice approach which admits and addresses the truth in charity offers a useful instrument to create a new culture within the Catholic Church which enables the truth to emerge not just in the adversarial culture which is common in our societies, but in an environment which focuses on healing. At our service of lament and repentance I stressed that scandal of the sexual abuse of children by clergy means that the Archdiocese of Dublin will never be the same again. That is more easily said than achieved. After a period of crisis there is the danger that complacency sets in and that all the structures which we have established slip down to a lower gear. …

A Church which becomes a restorative community will be one where the care of each one of the most vulnerable and most wounded will truly become the dominant concern of the ninety-nine others, who will learn to abandon their own security and try to represent Christ who still seeks out the abandoned and heals the troubled. …

Martin’s full speech is below.
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Are the Walls of the Vatican Just Too Thick?

Diether Endicher/Associated Press

Laurie Goodstein, the NYT’s religion reporter extraordinaire, along with David M. Halbfinger and Rachel Donadio published an excellent overview of the Catholic Churches response to the sexual abuse scandal, Church Office Failed to Act on Abuse Scandal, in yesterday’s paper.

For me, one of the saddest items in the story is simply the title of the confidential apostolic letter written by Pope John Paul II instructing that all cases of sexual abuse by priests were thenceforth to be handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger’s office. The letter’s title: “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela,” Latin for “Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments.”

When the walls of the Vatican have become so thick that the one wearing the Shoes of the Fisherman and carrying Peter’s key prioritizes the sanctity of ritual over the sanctity of a child then the ritual has not only become meaningless, but blasphemy.

The apostolic letter should have been public and preached from every pulpit and parapet. It should have been titled “Safeguarding the Sanctity of Our Children.” It should have ordered an immediate opening of all files related to possible criminal activities by employees of the Catholic church (including all priests and deacons) to secular authorities for a proper prosecution. It should have called every bishop, archbishop, and cardinal to Rome for a meeting and hearing from victims of sexual abuse by a religious leader – and professional training by psychologists skilled in the nature of pedophilia, gender-related abuse, sexual abuse, and the insidiousness of domination as it relates to emotional and psychological abuse. It should have called for a time period of regular public repentance by Catholic church leaders, plus ongoing investigation to determine whether previous abuse cases were being dealt with in a timely manner and whether new cases were drastically decreasing.

It is, of course, “unfair” to cast aspersions on such a complicated case and process — especially in hindsight. However, I hope the more times we say what we SHOULD have done, will help prepare us for what we WILL do in the future.

Read Goodstein’s article here and there are some excerpts below:

…in May 2001, John Paul issued a confidential apostolic letter instructing that all cases of sexual abuse by priests were thenceforth to be handled by Cardinal Ratzinger’s office. The letter was called “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela,” Latin for “Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments.”

In an accompanying cover letter, Cardinal Ratzinger, who is said to have been heavily involved in drafting the main document, wrote that the 1922 and 1962 instructions that gave his office authority over sexual abuse by priests cases were “in force until now.”

The upshot of that phrase, experts say, is that Catholic bishops around the world, who had been so confused for so long about what to do about molestation cases, could and should have simply directed them to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith all along.

Bishops and canon law experts said in interviews that they could only speculate as to why the future pope had not made this clear many years earlier.

“It makes no sense to me that they were sitting on this document,” said the Rev. John P. Beal, a canon law professor at the Catholic University of America. “Why didn’t they just say, ‘Here are the norms. If you need a copy we’ll send them to you?’ ”

Nicholas P. Cafardi, a Catholic expert in canon law who is dean emeritus and professor of law at Duquesne University School of Law, said, “When it came to handling child sexual abuse by priests, our legal system fell apart.”

… Mr. Cafardi, who is also the author of “Before Dallas: The U.S. Bishops’ Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse of Children,” argued that another effect of the 2001 apostolic letter was to impose a 10-year statute of limitations on pedophilia cases where, under a careful reading of canon law, none had previously applied.

“When you think how much pain could’ve been prevented, if we only had a clear understanding of our own law,” he said. “It really is a terrible irony. This did not have to happen.”

Though the apostolic letter was praised for bringing clarity to the subject, it also reaffirmed a requirement that such cases be handled with the utmost confidentiality, under the “pontifical secret” — drawing criticism from many who argued that the church remained unwilling to report abusers to civil law enforcement. ….

After the new procedures were adopted, Cardinal Ratzinger’s office became more responsive to requests to discipline priests, said bishops who sought help from his office. But when the sexual abuse scandal erupted again, in Boston in 2002, it immediately became clear to American bishops that the new procedures were inadequate.

Meeting in Dallas in the summer of 2002, the American bishops adopted a stronger set of canonical norms requiring bishops to report all criminal allegations to the secular authorities, and to permanently remove from ministry priests facing even one credible accusation of abuse. They also sought from the Vatican a streamlined way to discipline priests that would not require a drawn-out canonical trial.

… Other reforms enacted by American bishops included requiring background checks for church personnel working with children, improved screening of seminarians, training in recognizing abuse, annual compliance audits in each diocese and lay review boards to advise bishops on how to deal with abuse cases.

Those measures seem to be having an impact. Last year, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 513 people made allegations of sexual abuse against 346 priests or other church officials, roughly a third fewer cases than in 2008.

Yet the Vatican did not proactively apply those policies to other countries, and it is only now grappling with abuse problems elsewhere. Reports have surfaced of bishops in Chile, Brazil, India and Italy who quietly kept accused priests in ministry without informing local parishioners or prosecutors.

Benedict, now five years into his papacy, has yet to make clear if he intends to demand of bishops throughout the world — and of his own Curia — that all priests who committed abuse and bishops who abetted it must be punished. Benedict, now five years into his papacy, has yet to make clear if he intends to demand of bishops throughout the world — and of his own Curia — that all priests who committed abuse and bishops who abetted it must be punished.

As the crisis has mushroomed internationally this year, some cardinals in the Vatican have continued to blame the news media and label the criticism anti-Catholic persecution. Benedict himself has veered from defensiveness to contrition, saying in March that the faithful should not be intimidated by “the petty gossip of dominant opinion” — and then in May telling reporters that “the greatest persecution of the church does not come from the enemies outside, but is born from the sin in the church.”

The Vatican, moreover, has never made it mandatory for bishops around the world to report molesters to the civil authorities, or to alert parishes and communities where the abusive priests worked — information that often propels more victims to step forward. (Vatican officials caution that a reporting requirement could be dangerous in dictatorships and countries where the church is already subject to persecution.)

It was only in April that the Vatican posted “guidelines” on its Web site saying that church officials should comply with civil laws on reporting abuse. But those are recommendations, not requirements.

Today, a debate is roiling the Vatican, pitting those who see the American zero-tolerance norms as problematic because they lack due process for accused priests, against those who want to change canon law to make it easier to penalize and dismiss priests.

Where Benedict lies on this spectrum, even after nearly three decades of handling abuse cases, is still an open question.

Read the whole article here.