In "Clerical Sexual Abuse: The Case of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado," I pointed out that, for decades, the founder of the Legion of Christ had lived (in the recent words of the Holy See Press Office) "a life devoid of scruple and of genuine religious sentiment" while engaged in "very serious and objectively immoral behaviour." And yet attempts by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, to pursue the case of Father Maciel were stymied by high-ranking Vatican officials who were close to Pope John Paul II.
We'll probably never know the reason why, but it seems likely that John Paul's fondness for Father Maciel may have had something to do with it. Does this mean that the previous pope knew about, let alone fully understood, all of the allegations against Father Maciel? Not necessarily. For much of the last decade of his life, John Paul suffered from a variety of ailments that affected both his physical and his mental condition, including Parkinson's disease and physical weakness stemming from Mehmet Ali Agca's attempted assassination. Some of the same Vatican officials who placed roadblocks in Cardinal Ratzinger's way may well have kept John Paul in the dark.
That said, any close observer of the media firestorm of the past few months has to have asked himself the question: Is Pope Benedict XVI taking the fall for the actions of others under the reign of Pope John Paul II?
Both John Allen, the best Vatican reporter in the English-speaking world (despite working for the National Catholic Reporter, the worst Catholic newspaper in the United States), and Damian Thompson, the editor-in-chief of the London-based Catholic Herald, suggest that the answer may be yes. Thompson notes something that I have repeatedly discussed:
Long before he was Pope, Joseph Ratzinger fought to tighten the Catholic Church’s procedures for dealing with abuse allegations.
And yet not only has the secular media not given him credit for doing so; the Vatican itself has been reluctant to discuss this indisputable fact. Even when the unequivocal condemnation of Father Maciel was released on Saturday, no mention was made of the fact that Cardinal Ratzinger attempted more than once to pursue the case of Father Maciel, and that Father Maciel's eventual removal from the ministry and exile to a monastery occurred only because of the persistence of the current pontiff.
This reluctance to provide clear evidence that would counter many of the recent media attacks on the Holy Father is puzzling, unless, as Thompson writes,
Could it have been because telling the truth about Benedict would tarnish the reputation of Pope John Paul II?
John Allen has the details in his discussion of a letter, written by Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos in 2001, commending a French bishop for refusing to report to the civil authorities allegations of sexual abuse against one of his priests. When the letter (which, as Thompson points out, "was first published years ago") was recently resurrected by the media, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos defended himself by claiming that he had showed the letter, not to Cardinal Ratzinger, but to Pope John Paul II.
And that, as Allen writes, brought an immediate response from the Vatican:
In a rare case of “rapid response,” the official Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, had a statement out to reporters almost immediately after stories broke in France.
The letter, Lombardi’s statement said, offers “another confirmation of how timely was the unification of the treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
In effect, that was a polite way of saying that Castrillon was part of the problem against which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, had to struggle in streamlining Vatican procedures for dealing with sex abuse cases.
Indeed, shortly after Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos sent the letter, Pope John Paul II finally acceded to Cardinal Ratzinger's request to transfer control over clerical sex-abuse cases to Cardinal Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Again, we're faced with the question: Why hasn't the Vatican countered the media attacks with a full accounting of Cardinal Ratzinger's actions—an accounting which, as those of us who have followed these stories for a decade or more know, would show that no one in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has worked harder to bring an end to the scourge of clerical sexual abuse?
John Allen may have "At least part of the answer":
because to make Ratzinger look good, they’d have to make others look bad – including, of course, Castrillon, as well as other top Vatican officials. Lurking behind that concern is a deeper one, which is that to salvage the reputation of Benedict XVI it might be necessary to tarnish that of Pope John Paul II.
While Joseph Ratzinger and Karol Wojtyla were very dear friends, it is no secret that the two men disagreed on a number of issues, including points of Church governance and the liturgy. Yet Pope Benedict clearly admires his predecessor, whom Thompson right describes as "a man of titanic courage, personal holiness and high moral standards," and he has no desire to exonerate himself by tarnishing, even indirectly, the memory of Pope John Paul II.
That determination is commendable—indeed, we might even say it is Christ-like. But it's not an action that the secular media could comprehend—even if they wanted to.
More Coverage of Clerical Sexual Abuse on the About.com Catholicism GuideSite:
- Clergy Sexual Abuse: Separating Fact, Fiction, and Anti-Catholic Bias
- The Pope and Fr. Murphy: Fact, Fiction, and Anti-Catholic Bias
- Vatican Releases Guidelines on Sexual Abuse Allegations
- The New York Times Public Editor on Clerical Sexual Abuse
- The New York Times' Attack on Pope Benedict: The Rest of the Story
- Clerical Sexual Abuse: The Case of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado
- The Third Secret of Fatima and Clerical Sexual Abuse
- The New York Times Finds Another Target
- Catholic Church Issues New "Norms on Most Serious Crimes"
- Clerical Sexual Abuse: The New York Times Strikes (Out) Again
- Should the Vatican Come Clean on Clerical Sexual Abuse?
- Vatican Orders Bishops' Conferences to Draw Up Clerical Sexual Abuse Procedures