Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sex Crimes and the Vatican

Sexual abuse is a tragedy. There is no excuse for priests who committ acts of sexual abuse and they should be removed from priesthood and civilly charged. There is no justification for it and bishops deserve the authority and responsibility to deal with it decisively.

The BBC is alleging that the church has a policy of covering up acts of sexual abuse in a secret document called "Crimen solicitationis" or the crime of solicitation. If they are right, this would be the equivalent to the "smoking gun" that lawyers in this country and abroad have been seeking to use to finally involve the Pope and the Vatican in sexual abuse lawsuits. They even claim in their forty two minute video that the man chosen to enforce this document was none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the man we know as Pope Benedict the 16th.

There are a couple of problems with this theory.

1. It's a lie. The document deals with sexual abuse that is contracted in a confessional. In other words, if a priest were to solicit sexual abuse while hearing confessions, this instructs what needs to take place to deal with it. It calls such solicitation a crime and imposes the penalty of excommunication on any priest that committs it. But, it also imposes a statute of limitations on the person making allegations. Why, you may ask? As a priest, I'll tell you why. It isn't fair to bind a priest to the secrecy of the confessional and make false claims of sexual abuse months or years later. The priest cannot defend himself other than saying that nothng of the sort happened. He can't talk about details nor can he name people who may be able to corroborate the amount of time the person spent in the confessional. The church needed to set up some kind of way to protect the rights of the priest as well as the penitent.

2. Why keep it a secret? Perhaps because it deals with internal governance. It's not as though seminaries make this known to priests, trust me. This BBC documentary is the first time that I've heard of this. We are no more informed about this than anyone else is. It may be a policy that is still being worked out by the church. It may have been protected from insidious lawyers who love to use legal technicalities in less than scrupulous ways. The worst thing is that we automatically assume that the reason is insidious. Another possibility is that it is here on the Vatican website but that it's all in Italian. I don't know since I never learned Italian.

3. There is a deeper lie. They are alleging that since it's promulgation twenty years ago, Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of enforcing it. It wasn't until 2002 that enforcement of this was moved to the congregation for the doctrine of the faith for enforcement, the same year that Cardinal Law came under such intense scrutiny and was, eventually, moved to a position of...let's just say...lesser importance. I'm not sure who was in charge of enforcing it before that, though I'd expect that is was the congregation for the clergy. However, the only thing that is clear is that it wasn't the Pope! The BBC knows this. They know that it wasn't Benedict's responsibility to enforce this but they have continued to put forth this lie.

The media will do anything to make connections wheather they exist in reality or not. They need us to hate the pope and clergy to make them our only trusted resource of truth. Will American Catholics stand together and not let them or die the suicidal death of self hatred?