Sunday, February 17, 2013

Blaming the Pope.

Atheists are in a tizzy this week about a publicity stunt from a private entity with an official sounding name that claims to have issued an indictment of Pope Benedict. The fact that these yahoos believed this nonsense ought to put an end to their claim of being "skeptics" and "free-thinkers" for all time.

Moreover, blaming Ratzinger for the minor abuse scandal is like blaming the SEC for not taking a stronger stand on bank robberies. The "case" against Ratzinger consists of a major misunderstanding of how the Vatican works.  I've been in debates this last week on this subject so I am going to post an excerpt of my response to one of those debates.

This one involves the so-called smoking gun of a document known as "Crimen Solliciationis" which is supposed to have shown that Ratzinger ordered the cover-up of minor abuse scandal. What many people don't understand is that Crimen Sollicitationis applied only to "solicitations" - adult or minor - in the context of confession, which virtually none of the child abuse accusations involved.

Here is my post:

2.0 Crimen Sollicitationis

2.2 What you and others are doing with Crimen Sollicitationus (“CS”) is a classic trap for the unwary in statutory interpretation. You are running with assumptions about how the statute works without first determining whether it applies in the first place.

2.3 By its terms, CS applies only to the sacrament of confession. Hence the first paragraph reads:
“1. The crime of solicitation occurs whenever a priest – whether in the act itself of sacramental confession, or before or immediately after confession, on the occasion or under the pretext of confession, or even apart from confession [but] in a confessional or another place assigned or chosen for the hearing of confessions and with the semblance of hearing confessions there – has attempted to solicit or provoke a penitent, whosoever he or she may be, to immoral or indecent acts, whether by words, signs, nods, touch or a written message, to be read either at that time or afterwards, or he has impudently dared to have improper and indecent conversations or interactions with that person (Constitution Sacramentum Poenitentiae, §1).

2.4 Outsiders to Catholicism are undoubtedly tempted to slide over that language because it is largely meaningless to them. To a Catholic – who is immersed in Catholicism and not trying to score points by equivocation – however, this language is obvious and immediate. The regulation only applies to situations involving confession. Confession is a distinct event. Confession is delimited by things like privacy, confidentiality, isolation and a sacredness stemming from its sacramental nature. A Catholic will not confuse confession with other things.

2.5 Anyone with pertinent historical knowledge will know that the Inquisition – the predecessor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (“CDF”) which Ratzinger headed – was charged with policing “solicitation” in the confessional because confession was a sacrament. The Inquisition was not charged with policing priests generally, that kind of thing was left to “Ordinaries”, i.e., the local bishops. (See e.g., Helen Rawlings, The Spanish Inquisition, )

2.6 The reason for this historic distinction is that Confession is a sacrament. It therefore is inherently sacred and pertains to the faith, unlike molestation, which is not and does not, in part because under Catholic doctrine, in confession the priest is acting “alter Christus,” i.e., it is Christ who gives absolution.

2.7 Because confession is involved there are safeguards to protect the privacy of the confessional. (See (“Virtually all of Crimen Sollicitationis concerned the investigation and prosecution of complaints of sexual solicitation of penitents by priests in confession.10 Such procedures are difficult and sensitive because the seal of confession cannot be violated; a priest cannot break the seal even to defend himself against an accusation.11 The same policies and procedures were to be adapted and applied to the "worst crimes," including sexual aggression against minors.12)

2.8 This confidentiality of Crimen Solicitationis is nothing new but goes back hundreds of years. The fact that anyone would think this is an innovation is more than a little bit surprising in light of the fact that the Inquisition is normally criticized for its secrecy. Let me point out how this kind of forgetfulness seems all too convenient. (See also this link.)

2.9 Crimen Sollicitationis also is not directed to child molestation. By its own terms it applies to all “solicitation” in a confessional context. This includes adults, obviously. The idea that CS was drafted to “cover-up” child molestation is risible.

2.10 In fact, I suspect that the gravamen of the CS proceeding is more focused on the spiritual offense – the misuse of the sacrament – than it is with the physical harm. From the Catholic perspective, as bad as “solicitation” is by any person in power, and of a child by an adult, the abuse of the confessional and the priest’s role as the altus Christi is worse, since it is blasphemy against God.

3.1 Is Crimen Sollicitationis a smoking gun of a worldwide cover up?

3.2 CS was not secret as Canon law expert Ed Peters notes:

“Anyway, more than a year ago, when another British press organ, The Observer, tried to hype the alleged cover-up angle of this very same story, I blogged on it (27 April 2005), pointing out that Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger's so-called secret document was published in the official journal of the Holy See, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. 93 (2001) on pp. 785-788; for that matter, it was available on the Vatican website for at least several months before The Observer thought it broke the story in April of 2005. Now c'mon: it's bad enough the BBC and the Standard don't read the Acta Apostolicae Sedis; don't they even read The Observer?

Anyway, as I said back then, apparently Pope Benedict has a lot to learn about how to keep documents secret: like not publishing them in journals distributed around the world. What surprises me (though only mildly; this is main-line British journalism we're dealing with) is that I get to say it all again.
Discuss the CDF document, if you wish, O Media Elites; debate it even; but don't pretend that it was some sort of dark secret all this time, or portray yourself as valiant crusaders in search of the hidden truths, braving Vatican fury to inform the ignorant masses. Cuz it wasn't, and you're not.”

3.3 Media reports have misrepresented the significance of CS. From the same source
“Update, October 19: Fr. Thomas Doyle, the main on-camera expert in the Panorama hit-piece against Benedict XVI, is distancing himself from the Vatican-conspiracy claims he made, or came across as making, for the BBC. In a letter to NCRep writer John Allen posted Oct 13, Doyle writes "Although I was a consultant to the producers of the documentary I am afraid that some of the distinctions I have made about the 1962 document have been lost. I do not believe now nor have I ever believed it to be proof of an explicit conspiracy. . . ." Fascinating.”

3.4 This is from an Australian atheist blogger:

“Doyle is a ferocious critic of the US hierarchy and, as my previous post makes clear, it is inconceivable that he would do them any favours. 17 Whilst it could be reasonably argued that he is biased against the hierarchy and therefore his anti-hierarchical claims should be viewed with caution, his public comments on Crimen sollicitationis (baring one exception) run counter to his biases and are in agreement with “the hierarchy.” He states his view of Crimen sollicitationis:

The 1962 document [Crimen sollicitationis] and its predecessor from 1922 are not proof of an explicit world-wide conspiracy to cover up clergy sex crimes.18

Doyle set the fire when he released the document and fanned the flames of controversy through his appearance on the BBC. He is not someone I would usually consider to be a reliable expert but given on this occasion his biases run in the other direction, I feel that it’s not unreasonable to rely upon him in this instance. He is the best, and only, hope that “smoking gun” theorists have of proving their claims, but he does the exact opposite.

Of course, other experts in canon law, such as John Beal19, Francis Morrisey20, Ladislas Orsy21 and Edward Peters22 dispute the “smoking gun” theory as well. Every expert who has expressed a view on the matter, including the “anti-hierarchy” Doyle, agrees that Crimen sollicitationis is no smoking gun.”

4.0 Conclusion - So, I repeat, blaming Ratzinger in some fashion for covering-up or enabling sex abuse against minors because of Crimen Solicitationis is misguided.

It is like blaming the Securities and Exchange Commission for not taking a firm enough stand against bank robbery.

1 comment:

glunderwood said...

While I'm not sure how 'minor' these abuse scandals were, I appreciate your defending of Pope Benedict XVI, especially during the time of his resignation when he seems prone to attack by a majority of the media. Many people outside of the Catholic Church try to pass judgment on an entity that they have little knowledge about. You make this known by stating the misunderstanding that many have about the Crimen Sollicitationis. Also, many people do not understand the institution of Confession as a sacrament and all of the protocols of it. But, all this, as you mention, is somewhat of a moot point because the abuses were done outside of Confession, so the Crimen Sollicitationis would have no grounds here. Pope Benedict himself is used as a kind of scapegoat with these abuses. While the abuses done were egregious, it is not the fault of the pope that they occurred or that they may continue to occur. These cases are very sensitive and seem veiled in secrecy, but this is for the protection of those involved and to keep such scandals out of the media circus. Once again, I appreciate your defense of Pope Benedict XVI.

If anyone else in the blogasphere would like more information about the Crimen Sollicitationis and what they actually entail, here's a link:

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