Action Alert!
Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic World News

New York Times rips Pope, says he could have stopped abuse scandal in 1990s

July 02, 2010

In what purports to be a news article rather than an op-ed piece, The New York Times reported on July 2 that

the future pope, it is now clear, was also part of a culture of nonresponsibility, denial, legalistic foot-dragging and outright obstruction. More than any top Vatican official other than John Paul, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who might have taken decisive action in the 1990s to prevent the scandal from metastasizing in country after country, growing to such proportions that it now threatens to consume his own papacy.

[See Phil Lawler's critique of the Times story.]

Instead of addressing clerical abuse,

Cardinal Ratzinger was publicly disciplining priests in Brazil and Peru for preaching that the church should work to empower the poor and oppressed, which the cardinal saw as a Marxist-inspired distortion of church doctrine. Later, he also reined in a Dutch theologian who thought lay people should be able to perform priestly functions, and an American who taught that Catholics could dissent from church teachings about abortion, birth control, divorce and homosexuality.

The Times article contains no new evidence that the future Pope Benedict was involved in any effort to stall disciplinary action against abusive priests. In fact the authors report that the Pope was not an active participant in Vatican discussions on the topic in the 1980s. The lengthy article suggests that the Vatican prevented diocesan bishops from taking action against misbehaving priests, although Canon Law at that time gave the bishops full authority to take action on their own.

Apart from the article’s evident bias, the newspaper reported-- as if it were news-- that Cardinal Alfredo Ottiviani’s 1962 instruction Crimen sollicitationis, which dealt primarily with solicitation in the confessional, was the revision of a 1922 document. Msgr. Charles Scicluna, promoter of justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, discussed the 1922 origins of the document in an interview posted in March on the Vatican web site.

The Times also reported:

The Vatican has recently insisted that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office was responsible only for cases related to priests who solicited sex in the confessional, but the 1922 instructions plainly gave his office jurisdiction over sexual abuse cases involving “youths of either sex” that did not involve violating the sacrament of confession.

A Google search of the Vatican web site, using the varieties of the words “solicit” and “confession,” could not find any insistence that “Cardinal Ratzinger’s office was responsible only [emphasis added] for cases related to priests who solicited sex in the confessional.” On the contrary, in his March interview, Msgr. Scicluna made clear that the document contained “procedural norms to be followed in cases of solicitation during confession and of other more serious sexually-motivated crimes such as the sexual abuse of minors.” The 1962 document, which is posted on the Vatican web site, manifestly applied (in different ways) to clerics who committed acts of homosexuality, pedophilia, and bestiality (nos. 71-74), in addition to those who solicited in the confessional.

Crimen sollicitationis stated that “equated with the crimen pessimum [the homosexual act], with regard to penal effects, is any external obscene act, gravely sinful, perpetrated or attempted by a cleric in any way with pre-adolescent children of either sex or with brute animals.” Bishops were instructed to suspend priests guilty of these sins and, when warranted, to subject them to special supervision. Guilty clerics were to be reduced to the lay state “only when, all things considered, it appears evident that the Defendant, in the depth of his malice, has, in his abuse of the sacred ministry, with grave scandal to the faithful and harm to souls, attained such a degree of temerity and habitude, that there seems to be no hope, humanly speaking, or almost no hope, of his amendment.”

Crimen sollicitationis also laid out procedures that bishops were to follow in conducting ecclesiastical trials for priests accused of homosexual acts or of solicitation in the confessional. Once a priest was accused of solicitation or of a homosexual act, the bishop was directed to inform the Holy Office immediately.

The norms of Crimen sollicitationis were clearly not heeded at the local level, and after the Code of Canon Law was promulgated in 1983, other curial dicasteries became responsible for handling cases of the abuse of minors-- cases that bishops always had the authority to address at the local level. Msgr. Scicluna explained in March:

The first edition [1922] dates back to the pontificate of Pius XI. Then, with Blessed John XXIII, the Holy Office issued a new edition for the Council Fathers, but only two thousand copies were printed, which were not enough, and so distribution was postponed sine die [indefinitely]. In any case, these were procedural norms to be followed in cases of solicitation during confession, and of other more serious sexually-motivated crimes such as the sexual abuse of minors.

Between 1975 and 1985 I do not believe that any cases of paedophilia committed by priests were brought to the attention of our Congregation. Moreover, following the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there was a period of uncertainty as to which of the delicta graviora were reserved to the competency of this dicastery. Only with the 2001 motu proprio did the crime of paedophilia again become our exclusive remit. From that moment Cardinal Ratzinger displayed great wisdom and firmness in handling those cases, also demonstrating great courage in facing some of the most difficult and thorny cases … Therefore, to accuse the current Pontiff of a cover-up is, I repeat, false and calumnious.

Together with the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the 2001 document Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela sets forth the Church's current norms in disciplining priests accused of abusing minors. "The local diocese investigates every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric," the Vatican web site notes. "If the allegation has a semblance of truth the case is referred to the CDF ... Should the cleric be judged guilty, both judicial and administrative penal processes can condemn a cleric to a number of canonical penalties, the most serious of which is dismissal from the clerical state."


For all current news, visit our News home page.

Further information:
Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - Jul. 03, 2010 4:23 PM ET USA

    I would rather look to our Holy Father to lead us to do what is right in the eyes of our Lord regarding the abuse scandal than to the NY Times. We should all pray to the Holy Spitit to provide Pope benedict with the wisdom and courage needed at this difficult time.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jul. 03, 2010 11:46 AM ET USA

    Is God "lessened" because of our sin? This is NOT an argument over GOD or even doctrine but effective governance. There has been no "governing" of the Church for years. Scream and shout all you want, but it is true. Now the Emperor is naked.

  • Posted by: michaelwilmes - Jul. 02, 2010 3:00 PM ET USA

    NYT??? Oh. yawn.