More Truth About Pope Benedict

March 31, 2010

The level of vitriol being directed at Pope Benedict by the mainstream media right now is truly extraordinary. It’s primarily drive by desire for cash (scandal sells), followed closely by hatred, along with a hefty dose of ignorance.

Reading Maureen Dowd’s latest opinion column is just a cringe-inducing experience.

Even in ostensible news pieces the misrepresentation of facts is staggering. That’s where the ignorance comes in. Reporters in the mainstream media are seldom well versed in the matters they are reporting on, and it is clear that—even when outright malice is excluded from the equation—they simply do not have the background to properly understand or report on how the Vatican works and what its actions mean.

I am not saying that the Holy See’s handling of abuse cases can’t be legitimately criticized. I’m not saying that then-Cardinal Ratzinger/now-Pope Benedict XVI didn’t experience a learning curve on this point. And I don’t know what else is out there that remains to be discovered.

But I am saying that the media is getting this story wrong, particularly in the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, the American priest whose case was dealt with by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when Cardinal Ratzinger was its head.

The New York Times has done a great service to those wanting to look into this story by putting online a large number of primary source documents pertaining to the case. No doubt they mean these to incriminate Pope Benedict, but if you read them carefully—and if you know the relevant background—they don’t. (The documents are also posted here in .pdf format.)

So let’s look at the facts of the case in light of the documents:

Lawrence Murphy was born in 1925 and was ordained a priest in 1950. He served at St. John’s School for the Deaf from 1963 to 1974, during which time he later admitted to having abused 19 boys (press reports are saying as many as 200, but there is speculation involved there).

In the mid 1970s his victims complained to the police, but this did not result in a trial.

Note well: This is not a case of the diocese preventing the police from knowing about it. They already knew.

His victims also hung “most wanted” posters of him outside Milwaukee’s cathedral to urge Church authorities to deal with the situation. According to a document from the 1990s produced in preparation for a Church trial, virtually no documentation was available on the details of what the Milwaukee archdiocese did regarding the case back in the 1970s, but the result is known in broad brush.

Murphy was removed from the school for the deaf and given no further pastoral assignment. He moved back to his family residence, where he lived with his mother. Except for occasional visits to his brother in Houston, he lived in this house for the rest of his life.

He was never granted a pastoral assignment by the diocese of Superior, in which he was now living, but he occasionally said Mass at parishes and was used in some capacity at retreats for deaf people, due to his ability to communicate in sign language.

There were no further allegations of sexual abuse against him.

In 1995, some of Murphy’s victims and their lawyers contacted the now-archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland (ironic, yes, but that’s a different issue), reporting Murphy’s actions from the 1970s.

In December of 1995, Weakland ordered a preliminary investigation to determine whether the allegations had merit. It was concluded that they did.

However, because the charges against Murphy included the abuse of the sacrament of confession—an offense that was (and is) reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—Weakland wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger in July 1996 asking for guidance in how to proceed.

Note this well: Back in 1996 the CDF did not have a mandate to handle cases of sexual abuse by priests. It does now. It received that mandate later. But in 1996 it did not have one. The reason that Weakland notified the CDF was not because the abuse of minors was involved but because the abuse of the sacrament of confession was involved.

Weakland had not received a reply by October of 1996, and he began preparations for a canonical trial of Murphy.

In February 1997 Murphy raised the point that his crimes were committed before the 1983 Code of Canon Law was issued and that under the legal norms in force at the time, the statute of limitations had run out.

This caused Weakland to contact the Holy See with a request that the statute of limitations be waived so that the trial could proceed. He sent the request in March 1997 to the Apostolic Signatura, noting that he hadn’t heard from the CDF.

Since the case involved offenses reserved to the CDF, the Signatura promptly forwarded the request there, and within two weeks Weakland had a reply from the CDF.

The reply came from the secretary of the congregation, (now Cardinal) Tarcisio Bertone.

Here are two important points:

1) The delay in response. Weakland first wrote to the CDF in July 1996. He got his reply (after a further prompting) in March 1997—nine months later.

If you want to criticize, here is a possible thing to criticize. The CDF could have gotten back to him in a more timely manner. On the other hand, the CDF does not have a huge staff but it does have a huge mission as the Church’s theological quality control department. I think this one is debatable.

2) Note that the reply came from Bertone, not Ratzinger. This is actually what you would expect. The way these dicasteries work, while the Cardinal Prefect (Ratzinger, in this case) is in charge, it is the Secretary (Bertone) who is the actual “show-runner”—the one who oversees the day-to-day functioning of the department. So while you would write to Ratzinger as a matter of protocol, you would expect him to hand the matter off to Bertone and to hear back from the latter. Indeed, after deference to Ratzinger has been paid by writing the first letter to him, Weakland and Bishop Fliss of Superior correspond directly with Bertone.

This creates a situation where we don’t really know what Ratzinger’s involvement was. In the documentation presented by the New York Times Ratzinger never replies. It’s always Bertone who does so. Bertone (not Ratzinger) even chairs a meeting at the Vatican on the matter.

Did Cardinal Ratzinger even see the initial letter regarding Murphy? Maybe. Or maybe it was given to Bertone as part of his role as show-runner. Maybe the mail room at the CDF automatically gives correspondence addressed to the Cardinal Prefect to the Secretary, who serves as his filter. I don’t know. (Maybe someone who knows such things can clarify in the combox. Please cite sources.)

Incidentally, note that in his statement, press spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi carefully and repeatedly talks about what “the Congregation” did regarding the Murphy case, not what Cardinal Ratzinger did.

Guess why.

So we don’t know if Ratzinger saw the letter, or if he was told about it, or what if anything he did.

That’s important to how we evaluate the story. Criticize the way these departments are run if you want, but we don’t have evidence that Ratzinger did anything in bad conscience.

He’s also been the leading change-agent pressing for tougher measures against abusive priests for nearly ten years.

So what did Bertone say in his reply to Weakland’s request for a waiver of the statute of limitations? He said for Weakland to continue the judicial process against Murphy, thus waiving the statute of limitations, while asking him to pay attention to certain prior norms that must be read in light of current law.

In other words, Bertone said, “Go ahead. Prosecute.”

Scarcely anything to fault Ratzinger for here.

So things proceed with the potential canonical trial of Murphy until January 1998 (by which time the case had been transferred to the Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin, in whose territory Murphy was residing). In this month, Murphy writes his own letter to the CDF.

As you’d expect, he addresses it to Cardinal Ratzinger, and as as you’d expect, Bishop Fliss of Superior (now handling the case) gets a reply from Bertone.

This is the crux letter—where people in the press want to find fault with Cardinal Ratzinger.

There are, again, a number of important things to note:

1) The text of the Murphy letter itself. Mainstream media sources will quote only a sound bite or two (at best; some flat-out misrepresent it), but thanks to the Internet and the NYT’s putting the document online, you can read it for yourself and make your own judgments.

HERE IT IS.

2) In the letter, Murphy asks the CDF to declare the action of the diocese of Superior (to whom the case has been transferred) invalid because the statute to limitations when the crimes were committed has passed. The CDF refuses to do so in Bertone’s reply and suggests that the case be handled in another way (more on that in a moment). The point is: The CDF refuses to invalidate the pending action of the diocese of Superior against Murphy. No ground of faulting Ratzinger there.

3) Murphy also makes a mercy-based request to the CDF not to be subjected to a trial at this point in his life. He writes:

I am seventy-two years of age, your Eminence [Cardinal Ratzinger], and I am in poor health. I have just recently suffered another stroke which has left me in a weakened state. I have followed all the directives of both Archbishop Cousins and now Archbishop Weakland. I have repented of any of my past transgressions, and have been living peaceably in northern Wisconsin for twenty-four years. I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood.

So when the response came from Archbishop Bertone, what did it say?

It did not prohibit a canonical trial. It didn’t say that this couldn’t be done. But it did hint at another path, saying:

[T]his Congregation invites Your Excellency [Raphael Michael Fliss of Superior, WI] to give careful consideration to what canon 1341 proposes as pastoral measures destined to obtain the reparation of scandal and the restoration of justice.

Canon 1341 provides that:

An ordinary is to take care to initiate a judicial or administrative process to impose or declare penalties 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.

So Bertone urges the relevant ordinary (now Fliss due to the change of diocese in which the trial would occur) to heed what the Code of Canon Law says regarding when to use a judicial process. Criticize the Code if you want, but we don’t have evidence of wrongdoing on Ratzinger’s part.

Note that Bertone doesn’t say Fliss can’t or shouldn’t go forward with the trial. He just says think about this canon and if there is another way to resolve the matter.

In May Fliss concluded that the scandal in the deaf community was such that the trial needed to go forward.

At the very end of the same month, he and Weakland were in Rome for their ad limina visit, and they had a meeting with Bertone about the Murphy case. Ratzinger was not present.

Bertone again did not say that the trial could not proceed. He pointed out certain canonical and practical difficulties it would involve, but he did not prohibit it. He further recommended that Murphy be examined by three psychiatrists, that he be assigned a spiritual director to keep tabs on him, that he be prohibited from doing anything with the deaf community, and that he be allowed to celebrate Mass only with permission given in writing by both Weakland and Fliss.

This seems to be the last action the CDF took on the matter—except for forwarding the minutes of the meeting a few weeks later (July 1998).

The next month, August 1998, Murphy died.

He really was in poor health.

Murphy had written his letter of appeal—the crux letter that the media is up in arms about—in January of 1998 and in August of 1998 he was dead.

One can fault any number of things about process or policy in this case, but we don’t have evidence that Ratzinger did anything in bad conscience. He didn’t stop the trial against Murphy from proceeding. At most (attributing everything to him that Bertone did) he recommended waiving the judicial proceeding due to the man’s advanced age and ill health while simultaneously taking steps to ensure that the man would not be a threat to anyone as he lived out his final months in seclusion.

Civil prosecutors make these kinds of judgments all the time, deciding whether it is really worth it to devote the resources to proceed to a full trial when the accused is elderly, not a threat, and likely to die during the proceedings.

They aren’t portrayed in the press as evil monsters, and from the facts of this case, Pope Benedict shouldn’t either.

Your thoughts?

Source: Jimmy Akin

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A Response to the New York Times by Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

March 29, 2010

The New York Times on March 25 accused Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, of intervening to prevent a priest, Fr. Lawrence Murphy, from facing penalties for cases of sexual abuse of minors.

The story is false. It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism.

Before addressing the false substance of the story, the following circumstances are worthy of note:

 • The New York Times story had two sources. First, lawyers who currently have a civil suit pending against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. One of the lawyers, Jeffrey Anderson, also has cases in the United States Supreme Court pending against the Holy See. He has a direct financial interest in the matter being reported.

 • The second source was Archbishop Rembert Weakland, retired archbishop of Milwaukee. He is the most discredited and disgraced bishop in the United States, widely known for mishandling sexual-abuse cases during his tenure, and guilty of using $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to pay hush money to a former homosexual lover who was blackmailing him. Archbishop Weakland had responsibility for the Father Murphy case between 1977 and 1998, when Father Murphy died. He has long been embittered that his maladministration of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee earned him the disfavor of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, long before it was revealed that he had used parishioners’ money to pay off his clandestine lover. He is prima facie not a reliable source.

 • Laurie Goodstein, the author of the New York Times story, has a recent history with Archbishop Weakland. Last year, upon the release of the disgraced archbishop’s autobiography, she wrote an unusually sympathetic story that buried all the most serious allegations against him (New York Times, May 14, 2009).

 • A demonstration took place in Rome on Friday, coinciding with the publication of the New York Times story. One might ask how American activists would happen to be in Rome distributing the very documents referred to that day in the New York Times. The appearance here is one of a coordinated campaign, rather than disinterested reporting.

It’s possible that bad sources could still provide the truth. But compromised sources scream out for greater scrutiny. Instead of greater scrutiny of the original story, however, news editors the world over simply parroted the New York Times piece. Which leads us the more fundamental problem: The story is not true, according to its own documentation.

The New York Times made available on its own website the supporting documentation for the story. In those documents, Cardinal Ratzinger himself does not take any of the decisions that allegedly frustrated the trial. Letters are addressed to him; responses come from his deputy. Even leaving that aside, though, the gravamen of the charge — that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office impeded some investigation — is proven utterly false.

The documents show that the canonical trial or penal process against Father Murphy was never stopped by anyone. In fact, it was only abandoned days before Father Murphy died. Cardinal Ratzinger never took a decision in the case, according to the documents. His deputy, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, suggested, given that Father Murphy was in failing health and a canonical trial is a complicated matter, that more expeditious means be used to remove him from all ministry.

To repeat: The charge that Cardinal Ratzinger did anything wrong is unsupported by the documentation on which the story was based. He does not appear in the record as taking any decision. His office, in the person of his deputy, Archbishop Bertone, agreed that there should be full canonical trial. When it became apparent that Father Murphy was in failing health, Archbishop Bertone suggested more expeditious means of removing him from any ministry.

Furthermore, under canon law at the time, the principal responsibility for sexual-abuse cases lay with the local bishop. Archbishop Weakland had from 1977 onwards the responsibility of administering penalties to Father Murphy. He did nothing until 1996. It was at that point that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office became involved, and it subsequently did nothing to impede the local process.

The New York Times flatly got the story wrong, according to its own evidence. Readers may want to speculate on why.

Here is the relevant timeline, drawn from the documents the New York Times posted on its own website.

15 May 1974

Abuse by Fr. Lawrence Murphy is alleged by a former student at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. In fact, accusations against Father Murphy go back more than a decade.

12 September 1974

Father Murphy is granted an official “temporary sick leave” from St. John’s School for the Deaf. He leaves Milwaukee and moves to northern Wisconsin, in the Diocese of Superior, where he lives in a family home with his mother. He has no official assignment from this point until his death in 1998. He does not return to live in Milwaukee. No canonical penalties are pursued against him.

9 July 1980

Officials in the Diocese of Superior write to officials in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee about what ministry Father Murphy might undertake in Superior. Archbishop Rembert Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee since 1977, has been consulted and says it would be unwise to have Father Murphy return to ministry with the deaf community. There is no indication that Archbishop Weakland foresees any other measures to be taken in the case.

17 July 1996

More than 20 years after the original abuse allegations, Archbishop Weakland writes to Cardinal Ratzinger, claiming that he has only just discovered that Father Murphy’s sexual abuse involved the sacrament of confession — a still more serious canonical crime. The allegations about the abuse of the sacrament of confession were in the original 1974 allegations. Weakland has been archbishop of Milwaukee by this point for 19 years.

It should be noted that for sexual-abuse charges, Archbishop Weakland could have proceeded against Father Murphy at any time. The matter of solicitation in the sacrament of confession required notifying Rome, but that too could have been done as early as the 1970s.

10 September 1996

Father Murphy is notified that a canonical trial will proceed against him. Until 2001, the local bishop had authority to proceed in such trials. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is now beginning the trial. It is noteworthy that at this point, no reply has been received from Rome indicating that Archbishop Weakland knew he had that authority to proceed.

24 March 1997

Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, advises a canonical trial against Father Murphy.

14 May 1997

Archbishop Weakland writes to Archbishop Bertone to say that the penal process against Father Murphy has been launched, and notes that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has advised him to proceed even though the statute of limitations has expired. In fact, there is no statute of limitations for solicitation in the sacrament of confession.

Throughout the rest of 1997 the preparatory phases of penal process or canonical trial is underway. On 5 January 1998 the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee says that an expedited trial should be concluded within a few months.

12 January 1998

Father Murphy, now less than eight months away from his death, appeals to Cardinal Ratzinger that, given his frail health, he be allowed to live out his days in peace.

6 April 1998

Archbishop Bertone, noting the frail health of Father Murphy and that there have been no new charges in almost 25 years, recommends using pastoral measures to ensure Father Murphy has no ministry, but without the full burden of a penal process. It is only a suggestion, as the local bishop retains control.

13 May 1998

The Bishop of Superior, where the process has been transferred to and where Father Murphy has lived since 1974, rejects the suggestion for pastoral measures. Formal pre-trial proceedings begin on 15 May 1998, continuing the process already begun with the notification that had been issued in September 1996.

30 May 1998

Archbishop Weakland, who is in Rome, meets with officials at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, including Archbishop Bertone but not including Cardinal Ratzinger, to discuss the case. The penal process is ongoing. No decision taken to stop it, but given the difficulties of a trial after 25 years, other options are explored that would more quickly remove Father Murphy from ministry.

19 August 1998

Archbishop Weakland writes that he has halted the canonical trial and penal process against Father Murphy and has immediately begun the process to remove him from ministry — a quicker option.

21 August 1998

Father Murphy dies. His family defies the orders of Archbishop Weakland for a discreet funeral.

— Father Raymond J. de Souza is a chaplain at Queen’s University in Ontario.


Classic Example of Spinning Truth To Fit One’s Conclusions (notice how Donahue fills in the missing pieces)

March 29, 2010

Scoundrel Time(s)

March 29, 2010

The sexual and physical abuse of children and young people is a global plague; its manifestations run the gamut from fondling by teachers to rape by uncles to kidnapping-and-sex-trafficking. In the United States alone, there are reportedly some 39 million victims of childhood sexual abuse. Forty to sixty percent were abused by family members, including stepfathers and live-in boyfriends of a child’s mother—thus suggesting that abused children are the principal victims of the sexual revolution, the breakdown of marriage, and the hook-up culture. Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft reports that 6-10 percent of public school students have been molested in recent years—some 290,000 between 1991 and 2000. According to other recent studies, 2 percent of sex abuse offenders were Catholic priests—a phenomenon that spiked between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s but seems to have virtually disappeared (six credible cases of clerical sexual abuse in 2009 were reported in the U.S. bishops’ annual audit, in a Church of some 65,000,000 members).

Yet in a pattern exemplifying the dog’s behavior in Proverbs 26:11, the sexual abuse story in the global media is almost entirely a Catholic story, in which the Catholic Church is portrayed as the epicenter of the sexual abuse of the young, with hints of an ecclesiastical criminal conspiracy involving sexual predators whose predations continue today. That the vast majority of the abuse cases in the United States took place decades ago is of no consequence to this story line. For the narrative that has been constructed is often less about the protection of the young (for whom the Catholic Church is, by empirical measure, the safest environment for young people in America today) than it is about taking the Church down—and, eventually, out, both financially and as a credible voice in the public debate over public policy. For if the Church is a global criminal conspiracy of sexual abusers and their protectors, then the Catholic Church has no claim to a place at the table of public moral argument.

The Church itself is in some measure responsible for this. Reprehensible patterns of clerical sexual abuse and misgovernance by the Church’s bishops came to glaring light in the U.S. in 2002; worse patterns of corruption have been recently revealed in Ireland. Clericalism, cowardice, fideism about psychotherapy’s ability to “fix” sexual predators—all played their roles in the recycling of abusers into ministry and in the failure of bishops to come to grips with a massive breakdown of conviction and discipline in the post-Vatican II years. For the Church’s sexual abuse crisis has always been that: a crisis of fidelity. Priests who live the noble promises of their ordination are not sexual abusers; bishops who take their custody of the Lord’s flock seriously, protect the young and recognize that a man’s acts can so disfigure his priesthood that he must be removed from public ministry or from the clerical state. That the Catholic Church was slow to recognize the scandal of sexual abuse within the household of faith, and the failures of governance that led to the scandal being horribly mishandled, has been frankly admitted—by the bishops of the United States in 2002, and by Pope Benedict XVI in his recent letter to the Catholic Church in Ireland. In recent years, though, no other similarly situated institution has been so transparent about its failures, and none has done as much to clean house. It took too long to get there, to be sure; but we are there.

These facts have not sunk in, however, for either the attentive public or the mass public. They do not fit the conventional story line. Moreover, they impede the advance of the larger agenda that some are clearly pursuing in these controversies. For the crisis of sexual abuse and episcopal malfeasance has been seized upon by the Church’s enemies to cripple it, morally and financially, and to cripple its leaders. That was the subtext in Boston in 2002 (where the effort was aided by Catholics who want to turn Catholicism into high-church Congregationalism, preferably with themselves in charge). And that is what has happened in recent weeks, as a global media attack has swirled around Pope Benedict XVI, following the revelation of odious abuse cases throughout Europe. In his native Germany, Der Spiegel has called for the pope’s resignation; similar cries for papal blood have been raised in Ireland, a once-Catholic country now home to the most aggressively secularist press in Europe.

But it was the New York Times’ front page of March 25 that demonstrated just how low those determined to bring the Church down were prepared to go.

Rembert Weakland is the emeritus archbishop of Milwaukee, notorious for having paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to satisfy the demands of his former male lover. Jeff Anderson is a Minnesota-based attorney who has made a substantial amount of money out of sex abuse “settlements,” and who is party to ongoing litigation intended to bring the resources of the Vatican within the reach of contingency-fee lawyers in the United States. Yet these two utterly implausible—and, in any serious journalistic sense, disqualified—sources were those the Times cited in a story claiming that, as cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF], Joseph Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI, had prevented sanctions against Father Lawrence Murphy, a diabolical Milwaukee priest who, decades before, had abused some 200 deaf children in his pastoral care. This was simply not true, as the legal papers from the Murphy case the Times provided on its Web site demonstrated (see here for a demolition of the Times’ case based on the documentary evidence it made available). The facts, alas, seem to be of little interest to those whose primary concern is to nail down the narrative of global Catholic criminality, centered in the Vatican.

The Times’ descent into tabloid sourcing and innuendo was even more offensive because of recent hard news developments that underscore Pope Benedict’s determination to root out what he once described as the “filth” in the Church. There was, for example, the pope’s March 20 letter to the Catholic Church in Ireland, which was unsparing in its condemnation of clerical sexual offenders (“. . . you betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals”) and unprecedented in its critique of malfeasant bishops (“grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred . . . [which have] undermined your credibility and effectiveness”). Moreover, the pope mandated an Apostolic Visitation of Irish dioceses, seminaries, and religious congregations—a clear indication that dramatic leadership change in Ireland is coming. In framing his letter to Ireland so vigorously, Benedict XVI succeeded in overcoming the institutional Vatican preference for the subjunctive in dealing with situations like this, and the pleas of Irish bishops that he cut them some slack, given the intense pressures they were under at home. That the pope rejected both curial and Irish opposition to his lowering the boom ought to have made clear that Benedict XVI is determined to deal with the problem of sexual abuse and episcopal misgovernance in the strongest terms. But for those obsessing over whether a pope had finally “apologized” for something (as if John Paul II had not spent a decade and a half “cleansing the Church’s historical conscience,” as he put it), these unmistakable signals were lost.

Then there was the March 25 letter from the leadership of the Legionaries of Christ to Legionary priests and seminarians and the Legion-affiliated movement, Regnum Christi. The letter disavowed the Legion’s founder, Father Marcial Maciel, as a model for the future, in light of revelations that Maciel had deceived popes, bishops, laity, and his brother Legionaries by living a duplicitous double life that included fathering several children, sexually abusing seminarians, violating the sacrament of penance, and misappropriating funds. It was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger who, as prefect CDF, was determined to discover the truth about Maciel; it was Pope Benedict XVI who put Maciel under virtual ecclesiastical house arrest during his last years, and who then ordered an Apostolic Visitation of the Legion of Christ that is currently being concluded: hardly the acts of a man at the center of a conspiracy of silence and cover-up.

While the Vatican has been far quicker in its recent response to irresponsible media reports and attacks, it could still do better. A documented chronology how the archdiocese of Munich-Freising handled the case of an abusing priest who had been brought to Munich for therapy while Ratzinger was archbishop would help buttress the flat denials, by both the Vatican and the archdiocese, that Ratzinger knowingly reassigned a known abuser to pastoral work—another charge on which the Times and others have been chewing. More and clearer explanations of how the canonical procedures put into place at CDF several years ago have accelerated, not impeded, the Church’s disciplining of abusive clergy would also be useful.

So, of course, would elementary fairness from the global media. That seems unlikely to come from those reporters and editors at the New York Times who have abandoned any pretence of maintaining journalistic standards. But it ought not be beyond the capacity of other media outlets to understand that much of the Times’ recent reporting on the Church has been gravely distorted, and to treat it accordingly.

Source: George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, is the author of The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church (Basic Books).


Judas Today!

March 29, 2010

“Who invited this guy? I thought I said, ‘no confusing me with the facts!'”

March 29, 2010

The West Needs a Spiritual Surge

March 29, 2010

The spell of the Enlightenment so profoundly distracts many Western opinion makers that the worldwide rise of religion is either ignored or it is viewed as major threat rather than an important source for the re-moralization of society. True, many observers have noted, especially after September 11, that the rise of a religiously ferocious Islam is not limited to the Arab world, but is very much in evidence in all Muslim nations from Indonesia to Turkey. But few have paid mind to the importance of the crowded churches in former communist countries in Eastern Europe and Russia; to the many scores of millions who are finding religion in China; and to the rapidly growing followings of a variety of religious denominations, cults and sects all over the world.

The global significance of these developments is highlighted in what otherwise would be an almost trivial development: the U.S. Agency for International Development is revising the textbooks used in Afghan and Iraqi schools. Its staff has been tearing out of these texts the passages that extol the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, but they have been stymied in finding what other values to instill, deciding instead to focus on teaching math, science and English. However, such secular teachings do not address profound issues that religions do speak to: What is a virtuous life? What are our obligations to our family members, friends and other community members? Is death a threatening end we all must fear or merely a passing to a better place? Are we truly better off as we command ever more goods? And can those of us who do not “make it” in the marketplace—still find deep sources of self-respect? 

Western secularism largely avoids these issues. Its consumer hedonism has an appeal of its own, but more and more people find that they cannot keep up with the Joneses. Hence the growing alienation in the countryside and among urban migrants—among the majority of the people—in developing nations such as India and China. The West does well when it extols the dignity of the individual, the value of autonomy and human rights. However these are basically ideologies that serve as compelling antidotes to excessive governmental intrusions and celebrate self-government. They do not address the questions that a person faces once he is free to choose, free to set his own course of destiny and purpose. 

The lack of responses to these transcendental questions is the main reason the West will continue to fall behind in the global clash of belief systems. Theoretically the West can evolve a much richer set of values by drawing on secular humanism, as long as it accords much more weight to the affirmative moral categories of Immanuel Kant and John Rawls’ conception of social justice, rather than focusing on libertarian notions of free choice. However, the religious revival sweeping all the world—except Western Europe—strongly suggests that the West will also have to draw on religious sources in seeking to speak to the profound questions that gnaw at people, especially once they have secured their basic creature comforts. 

Rather than treating religion, as so many enlightened people do, as a relic of the past, long on passion and short on reason, the enemy of progress and freedom, the West will best learn to differentiate between moderate, civil religious interpretations and violence-prone, fundamentalist ones. The first kind address key transcendental questions that concern our obligations to one another and our cosmic destiny, while seeking to persuade people rather than to coerce them to abide by the religious tenets. Among Christians there are indeed those who believe that their religion “comes not to bring peace, but a sword,” but many more who would rather “turn the other cheek”; some Jews also believe that God bequeathed to them the West Bank, but most believe that they ought to trade land for peace. Similarly there are Muslims who view jihad as a call to holy war, but there are others who follow the widely held interpretation of jihad as a spiritual journey of self-improvement, and who favor consultation with the community as the arbiter of religious norms (shura) over a mullah-led theocracy. 

The West may well have to draw on both enriched secular humanism and on moderate religious beliefs, if it is not to lose the struggle over the hearts and minds of the majority of the people of the world. It needs a spiritual rather a military surge.

Source: TPM