Has Catholic Canon Law Aggravated The Clergy Abuse Crisis?

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Among the potential victims of the Catholic clergy abuse crisis is one whose roots date to the early years of Christianity: the Catholic canon law system.

Each new revelation that a priest has molested a child and gone unpunished by his bishop has brought charges that part of the problem may be canonical procedures that fail to ensure justice for the victim.

The Roman Catholic church has long had its own legal system, incorporating a judicial framework and a complex set of laws, or canons, regulating church organization. Critics, however, say canon laws assign excessive importance to the protection of church institutions, encourage secrecy over transparency, and favor rehabilitating wayward priests rather than punishing them. While abusive priests can be defrocked for misconduct, the church cannot send anyone to prison.

The alleged shortcomings of the canon law system mean that civil authorities are increasingly taking the initiative to investigate Catholic clergy abuse on their own.

A problem of structure

“Because of its structures and because of how it has responded in the past, the Catholic church may in some ways be more ripe for these abuses to happen and fester,” says Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Last month, Madigan launched an inquiry into Catholic dioceses in her state, looking for unreported cases of clergy misconduct. She took the action despite assurances from the Chicago archdiocese that it is already investigating abuse allegations and, since 2002, has forwarded them all to the appropriate civil authorities.

“The problem is, I’m not sure that’s accurate,” Madigan explains. “So there has to be an independent investigation that will allow for a full and complete accounting.”

Madigan acted after a grand jury in Pennsylvania reported in August that more than 300 priests in six dioceses had abused children in recent decades and that bishops had covered up the crimes. Attorneys general in Missouri, New York, and Florida are exploring the possibility of doing their own clergy abuse investigations.

Canon law vs. civil law

To be clear, child molestation is considered a criminal act under Catholic law. Canon number 1395 in the Code of Canon Law states that a priest found to have had sexual contact with a minor under the age of sixteen is to be punished “with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.” Within the church, defrocking a priest is considered an especially severe punishment.

“I don’t see this [abuse crisis] as a failure of canon law,” says Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus of the Duquesne University Law School and also a trained canon lawyer. “I think the deficiency was the failure to use the system.”

“Most of the cases in the Pennsylvania grand jury report happened before 1990,” Cafardi notes. “Even in those years it was a canonical crime for a clergyman to sexually abuse a child. They should have been processed under the canon law, and they weren’t.”

Critics contend, however, that one reason more priests have not been held accountable by church authorities is that other aspects of canon law weaken the incentives for punishment.

Canon 1341, for example, stipulates that a bishop should penalize a priest “only after he has ascertained that fraternal correction or rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude cannot sufficiently repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender.”

In practice, the preference for “fraternal correction” or a “pastoral” solution can mean a bishop goes easy on an abusive priest, even one who has molested children.

“The bishop will bring the priest in, ask him if he’s going to do this again or if he’s over it,” says Carolyn Warner, a professor of political science at Arizona State University who has studied Catholic institutions. “In some cases, the bishop will send the priest for counseling, typically to a system run by Catholic priests who are specialists in this area.”

For Cafardi, a former advisor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on clergy abuse issues, such cases reflect poorly on the bishops themselves, however, not on the canonical system.

“Our bishops made a choice in those days,” Cafardi says. “Instead of going the logical route and starting canonical criminal proceedings against these men, they chose therapy.”

Avoiding scandal

Church authorities who have tolerated abusive priests, or transferred them to other parishes rather than defrocking them, may also have been thinking of the canonical admonition to “repair scandal.”

In Roman Catholic usage, a “scandal” is “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” or perhaps draw someone “into spiritual death.”

Some bishops, Warner argues, may have opted to hide evidence of child molesters in the priesthood out of a fear that if such behaviors were to become public, the priesthood would lose honor and credibility.

“You don’t want to let parishioners know about these situations,” Warner says, “because that might cause them to question their faith.”

In the end, however, efforts by bishops to protect the church from embarrassment backfired by undermining faith in the church’s ability to police its own and by spurring civil authorities to conduct their own investigations of church actions.

“I think you’re going to see that demanded even by the laity in the church,” says Illinois Attorney General Madigan. “Otherwise there is going to be continued concern and a resulting lack of trust.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church Is Sick With Sex

Outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love.

Pope Alexander VI

By Timothy Egan

One pope was a father of 10 through multiple mistresses, a man who purchased the papacy with mule-loads of silver. It is said that Alexander VI, the most debauched of the Borgia pontiffs, elected in 1492, even had an affair with one of his daughters.

Another pope contracted syphilis during his reign — a “disease very fond of priests, especially rich priests,” as the saying went in Renaissance times. That was Julius II, known as “Il terrible.”

A third pope, Pius IX, added Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” and John Stuart Mill’s book on the free market economy to the Vatican’s List of Prohibited Books during his long reign in the 19th century. He also formalized the doctrine of papal infallibility.

What these Holy Fathers had in common was not just that they were badly flawed men putting forth badly flawed ideas: At the root of their moral failings is Catholicism’s centuries-old inability to come to grips with sex.

I say this as a somewhat lapsed, but certainly listening, Catholic educated by fine Jesuit minds and encouraged by the open-mindedness of Pope Francis. The big issue behind the budding civil war in a faith of 1.3 billion people — a rift that could plunge the church back into a medieval mind-set on sexuality — is the same old thing.

And most of the church’s backward teachings, dictated by nominally celibate and hypocritical men, have no connection to the words of Jesus.

If you’re going to strike at a pope, to paraphrase the line about taking down a king, you must kill him. Right-wing Catholics, those who think allowing gay members of the faith to worship with dignity is an affront to God, have just taken their best shot at Francis.

The attempted coup was disguised as an exposé by a conscience-stricken cleric, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. He claims that the pope must resign because he knew about the sexual abuse of young seminarians by a disgraced cardinal and did not defrock the predator.

It’s a fair point, and one that demands a full response from Francis. But if you read Viganò’s full 11-page letter, you see what’s really driving him and his ultraconservative cabal — an abhorrence of gay Catholics and a desire to return to the Dark Ages.

“The homosexual networks present in the church must be eradicated,” Viganò wrote. Those close to Francis, he claimed, “belong to the homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.” For theological authority, he cited the infamous 1986 letter to bishops condemning homosexuality as “a moral disorder.”

That instructive was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, designed to do to heretics what the Inquisition once did, without the stake-burning.

The bishop’s letter cites Old Testament sanctions against “sodomites” and a New Testament interpretation from St. Paul, who admitted he was not speaking with direct authority from the divine. St. Augustine, who loved sex and had plenty of it before he hated it, set the church template in the fifth century, saying, “Marriage is only one degree less sinful than fornication.”

What’s missing from these puritanical pronouncements, from then till now, is the figure at the center of the faith. That’s because, outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love. Nothing about homosexuals. Nothing about priestly celibacy or barring women from clerical ranks, for that matter.

Last year, while walking the thousand-year-old Via Francigena, I came upon many Catholics along that pilgrim’s path to Rome excited about the fresh air blowing through a Vatican that hadn’t opened a window in decades. The only cloud over these spiritual sojourners was the constant news about criminal clergy.

The conservatives would do nothing to fix this, but would make the church a global pariah. The old guard is infuriated by statements like the one Pope Francis made on Sunday. When asked how a parent should treat a gay child, he said, “Don’t condemn, have dialogue, listen.”

The way out of the present crisis is more light, less darkness and a few bold and dramatic moves. For starters, clerics should not be judging other clerics; let lay members, women and men, conduct the investigations.

Priestly celibacy should be optional. It’s an anachronism, certainly not one of the “infallible” truths, and may be one of the main reasons pedophilia is thick in clerical ranks. For the first thousand years of the church, married men could become priests, as they still can in the Greek Orthodox faith.

Women should be priests. Duh. When asked about this, Francis said only men could serve because Jesus chose only men as his apostles. This logic is flawed, as Jesus also chose Jews, and you don’t see a lot of them being invited into the priesthood.

A final alternative might be to look to the United States ambassador to the Vatican for moral guidance. That would be Callista Gingrich, who carried on a six-year affair with a married Newt Gingrich and became his third wife. In Rome, as always, hypocrisy is eternal.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Lay Group Wants More Responsibility To Investigate Clergy Sexual Abuse


Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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A group of Catholics empowered to advise U.S. bishops on their handling of clergy sex abuse is accusing the bishops of “a loss of moral leadership” and recommending that lay Catholics like themselves should henceforth be responsible for investigating clergy misconduct.

The National Review Board, a lay panel established in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a strongly worded statement that allegations against former Washington, D.C., Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and accounts of clergy abuse detailed in a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report reflect “a systemic problem within the Church that can no longer be ignored or tolerated by the episcopacy in the United States.”

The NRB was created as part of the U.S. bishops’ response to revelations in 2002 that Catholic authorities had covered up evidence of criminal sexual misconduct by Catholic clergy in the Boston area. The 11-member panel was supposed to work “collaboratively” with the bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, but the statement released Tuesday suggested that model had proved inadequate.

“The evil of the crimes that have been perpetrated reaching into the highest levels of the hierarchy will not be stemmed simply by the creation of new committees, policies, or procedures,” the group charged. “Holding bishops accountable will require an independent review [of an abuse allegation]. … The only way to ensure the independence of such a review is to entrust this to the laity.”

The review board’s statement echoes past criticism that bishops for too long have insisted that they alone are responsible for policing each other, a process they term “fraternal correction.”

“They didn’t trust lay people to know what the problem was,” says Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus at Duquesne University Law School and a former NRB chairman.

In its statement, the NRB called for the establishment of “an anonymous whistleblower policy” modeled after those employed in corporations, higher education and other public and private institutions, to be administered by an organization independent of the Catholic hierarchy. Such a group, the NRB recommended, should be established immediately and given the responsibility of reporting allegations of clergy abuse “to the local bishop, local law enforcement, the nuncio and Rome.” (A nuncio is the Vatican ambassador to a country.)

Efforts to strengthen bishop accountability have been hampered by the fact that under Catholic canon law, a bishop can be removed from his position only by the pope.

“Some bishops say they are only accountable to the Holy Father,” says Cafardi, who has degrees in both canon and civil law. “[But] that seems to indicate they don’t feel accountable to their people.”

Pope Francis has regularly criticized excessive “clericalism” in church culture, the tendency to elevate priests and bishops to a status where they may acquire something close to impunity.

“It’s priests not wanting to say something bad about another priest, or a bishop not wanting bad things to be known about a priest of his diocese,” says Cafardi. “That’s clericalism. It’s when bishops don’t trust us with the truth.”

The NRB push to give the Catholic laity more authority has some support within the U.S. church. The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, announced earlier this month that the conference is working on a reform plan, one aspect of which would be to increase lay involvement in the investigation of bishop misconduct.

“Lay people bring expertise in areas of investigation, law enforcement, psychology, and other relevant disciplines,” DiNardo said, “and their presence reinforces our commitment to the first criterion of independence.”

Complete Article HERE!

A Catholic Civil War?

Traditionalists want strict adherence to church doctrine. Liberals want the doctrine changed.

By Matthew Schmitz

Pope Francis must resign. That conclusion is unavoidable if allegations contained in a letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò are true. Archbishop Viganò, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States from 2011 to 2016, says that Pope Francis knew Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused seminarians, but nonetheless lifted penalties imposed on Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI.

No matter what Francis does now, the Catholic Church has been plunged into all-out civil war. On one side are the traditionalists, who insist that abuse can be prevented only by tighter adherence to church doctrine. On the other side are the liberals, who demand that the church cease condemning homosexual acts and allow gay priests to step out of the closet.

Despite their opposing views, the two sides have important things in common. Both believe that a culture of lies has enabled predators to flourish. And both trace this culture back to the church’s hypocritical practice of claiming that homosexual acts are wrong while quietly tolerating them among the clergy.

As the liberal Vatican observer Robert Mickens writes, “There is no denying that homosexuality is a key component to the clergy sex abuse (and now sexual harassment) crisis.” James Alison, himself a gay priest, observes, “A far, far greater proportion of the clergy, particularly the senior clergy, is gay than anyone has been allowed to understand,” and many of those gay clergy are sexually active. Father Alison describes the “absurd and pharisaical” rules of the clerical closet, which include “doesn’t matter what you do so long as you don’t say so in public or challenge the teaching.”

The importance of not challenging church teaching is seen in the contrast of two gay-priest scandals of the Francis pontificate. The first is the case of Msgr. Battista Ricca, a Vatican diplomat who, while stationed in Uruguay, reportedly lived with a man, was beaten at a cruising spot and once got stuck in an elevator with a rent boy. (In Uruguay, the age of consent is 15.) These facts were concealed from Pope Francis, who in 2013 appointed Monsignor Ricca to a position of oversight at the Vatican Bank.

After Monsignor Ricca’s sins were exposed, Francis chose to stand by him, famously saying, “Who am I to judge?” Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa suffered a less happy fate. The priest, who worked at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, announced in 2015 that he was gay and had a male partner, and asked the church to change its teaching. He was immediately fired. Both Monsignor Ricca and Monsignor Charamsa had sinned, but only one had stepped out of line.

The other rule of the clerical closet is not violating the civil law — or at least not getting caught. Francis defended Monsignor Ricca by distinguishing between sins and crimes: “They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different.” This distinction provides cover for sex abuse. When countless priests are allowed to live double lives, it is hard to tell who is concealing crimes. Cardinal McCarrick was widely seen as “merely” preying on adult seminarians. Now he has been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

Corrupt as this situation is, many Catholic leaders prefer it to the coming civil war. That seemed to be the attitude of Bishop Robert Barron when he called for an investigation that avoids “ideological hobby horses” like priestly celibacy and homosexuality. Bishop Barron is right to insist that accountability comes first. This is why anyone implicated in cover-up — up to and including Pope Francis — needs to resign.

But even if all the men at fault are held accountable, the hypocrisy will continue. The real danger the church faces is not ideological challenge from left or right but a muddled modus vivendi that puts peace before truth.

In 2005 the Vatican attempted to address this problem by instructing seminaries to turn away men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” But several Catholic leaders immediately indicated that they would not abide by this rule. Because Pope Benedict did nothing to enforce the decree, it became yet another symbol of Catholic hypocrisy.

According to Catholic teaching, every act of unchastity leads to damnation. But many bishops would rather save face than prevent the ruin of bodies and souls. If the church really does believe that homosexual acts are always and everywhere wrong, it should begin to live what it teaches. This would most likely mean enforcing the 2005 decree and removing clergy members caught in unchastity. If the church does not believe what it says — and there are now many reasons to think that it does not — it should officially reverse its teaching and apologize for centuries of pointless cruelty.

Either way, something must change. Marie Collins, a sex abuse survivor, warned that the crisis in the church is bound to get worse: “More and more countries are going to come forward, and as victims find their voices, it’s going to grow bigger.” Everyone who wants to end sex abuse should pray that the Catholic civil war does not end in stalemate.

Complete Article HERE!

Why don’t women have a role in the Catholic Church?

Cardinals attend Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on March 12, 2013.

By Margery Eagan

I am part of a dying breed: Catholics who still go to church.

At the rate the Catholic hierarchy is disgracing itself, there’ll soon be none of us left.

How many young people want to join a church that remains oddly obsessed with sex? That says no to gays but yes to bishops who let priests rape little children? That considers birth control a “grave sin,” even among the married?

How many young people want to join a church that still demeans and disrespects women, or half the human race?

The Catholic Church won’t ordain women as priests or even deacons, a sort of priest-lite. Incredibly, the church considers ordaining women one of its worst offenses — but on the exact par with sexually attacking boys and girls.

Women have zero power in church decisions, even those directly affecting them. Instead, hundreds of celibate men get together, by themselves, and decide what women need. Conservative Catholics don’t even want girls to join altar boys serving Mass or have women participate in an annual Easter week feet-washing ritual.

Pope Francis, women’s best hope for reform since the 1960s, nonetheless has a depressingly dated and even juvenile perspective. He has called female theologians “strawberries on the cake,” warned women to become mothers and “not an old maid,” and derided grandmothers as no longer “fertile and vibrant.”

For decades, Catholic women outside the church have trashed these and other absurdities. Earlier this week in Ireland, before Francis’ visit there, former Irish president Mary McAleese again criticized the church she has called the world’s primary “carrier of the virus of misogyny” and “a male bastion of patronizing platitudes.” A church that “regularly criticizes the secular world for its failure to deliver on human rights [but] has almost no culture of critiquing itself.” A church that has “never sought a cure [for this] though a cure is readily available . . . equality.”

McAleese, the mother of a gay son, spoke these words at a conference on women in the church this winter that was originally planned for the Vatican. But the Vatican banned McAleese — a former head of state — from speaking. So the conference was relocated.

I am a fan of Jesuits, an order of smart and typically thoughtful priests. Francis is one. Yet I remember well a Boston College event two years ago marking the selection of the new Jesuit leader. The slide show that night featured picture after picture of men, just men, hundreds and hundreds of men in a massive room — not a woman in sight. Some women in the audience exchanged knowing glances. One raised her hand and asked: What about the women? But not a single Jesuit there, if any noticed at all, remarked on how abnormal, almost ridiculous, this all looked.

I don’t think those Jesuits, or many other bishops and priests, recognize the abnormality, the ridiculousness — perhaps because that’s what the Catholic hierarchy is: men in rooms. All men. Only men. But in light of these endless stories of priests’ sadism, all men and only men seems more than abnormal. It seems diseased.

Catholics get the question all the time: Why stay? Lots of Catholics I know say their faith centers on the radical carpenter who started it all, not on the corrupt institution created and dragged close to ruin — one more time — by men. As one disgusted Catholic put it at Mass last week, she still yearns for a church worthy of Jesus Christ.

Getting there means massive reforms. But a church where men and women share power must be among them. Not that women are perfect, of course. But I have no doubt that Catholic women with power in the church would have saved thousands of children from criminal predators all across Pennsylvania, Boston, America, and much of the world. Here’s what women almost never do: rape children.

Complete Article HERE!