Action Alert!

no mandate from the Times

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 24, 2011

 Last Friday, January 21, a New York Times editorial chastised the Vatican for failing to promote a worldwide policy that would require bishops to report any charges of sexual abuse by clergy to local law-enforcement officials.

That sounds like a good idea, and perhaps in countries like the US it is a good idea. But again, the Times was calling for a worldwide policy. Now suppose a bishop in, say, Pakistan hears a complaint about one of his priests. The priest may be guilty, in which case he should certainly be prosecuted. But he may also be innocent. We know that some Pakistani Muslims have exploited their country’s blasphemy laws to settle grudges against Christian neighbors, by bringing false complaints. Guilty or innocent, the accused Christians become the target of Islamic zealots; even if the courts absolve them of guilt, their lives will remain in danger. If bishops were obliged to report all abuse complaints, it’s easy to predict that militant anti-Catholics would begin lodging complaints, just to watch the system grind up the accused clerics.  

Is this really so hard to understand? Bishops should report substantiated accusations to legitimate public authority, if and when they can expect justice from the legal system. But in today’s world, in which dozens of nations are controlled by anti-Christian governments, a universal policy would be foolish.

(By the way, the Times editorial bears the headline: “Missing Mandate from Rome.” That’s an improvement over an earlier posted version, with the headline: “Vatican still lacks a mandate.” That would be a surprise for faithful Catholics, who think that Matthew 16:18 will do nicely as a mandate for the Holy See, at least until the New York Times grants its editorial approval.) 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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