Action Alert!

a Vatican struggle over abuse policy

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 23, 2010

With the latest revelations by Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, a clear picture begins to emerge from what had been a haze of confusion about the Vatican's approach to sex-abuse complaints.

There was a conflict within the Roman Curia over how these complaints should be handled. That conflict apparently endured through much of the pontificate of John Paul II. It ended with the election of Benedict XVI. 

Writing (in French) on his religious-affairs blog, veteran Vatican analyst Jean-Marie Guenois of Le Figaro explains what happened. The Congregation for the Clergy, under Cardinal Castrillon, argued for protective treatment of accused abusers. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Cardinal Ratzinger, argued for decisive disciplinary action. Sometimes Cardinal Ratzinger had his way, as in the handling of the Groër case; sometimes he was frustrated, as with Maciel case; sometimes the results were indecisive, as with the Burresi case.

Then in 2001, after the abuse scandal exploded in the US, Cardinal Ratzinger won a major victory, with the assignment of abuse cases to the CDF. The lenient attitude of the Congregation for Clergy was no longer a factor; prompt and serious discipline was possible. The second, decisive victory came in 2005 with the election of Pope Ratzinger. Within weeks the Maciel and Burresi cases were resolved. 

There's a story here with a simple plot line. The man wearing the white hat is the Pope. 

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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  • Posted by: annemarie - Apr. 25, 2010 12:40 PM ET USA

    I pray that His Holiness will help falsely accused priests. These innocent men are being stonewalled and, in many cases, denigrated by their bishops. The Caiaphas syndrome - “You know nothing. Neither do you consider that it is expedient to you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” (Jn 11:50) Many bishops disregard innocent priests, and seem to have a determination to get rid of these men who are a problem to them, without any consideration of justice.

  • Posted by: Ben Dunlap - Apr. 24, 2010 1:44 AM ET USA

    Castrillon Hoyos's attitude seems obviously off-base in retrospect but I'm not sure that attributing it to "clericalism" and "stonewalling" is fair without understanding a lot of context and history. It's easy to pass judgment from my vantage point in America, where I enjoy freedom of religion that's probably unequaled anywhere else in the world. The relationship between Church and state in France is a whole different story.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 23, 2010 5:22 PM ET USA

    One wonders if the good Cardinal can spell "clericalism". I'd lay a bet there are a few bishops and archbishops in the US who might; bankruptcy has been the result of the stonewalling by a whole bunch of upper-echelon clergy. Castrillon may only be the most obvious example.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 23, 2010 12:41 PM ET USA

    You illuminate much with this article. As the Epistle to the Ephesians says, "Bring all things to light, that they may be judged..." and..., "Speak the truth in love..."