Saturday, October 26, 2013

Former Promoter of Justice for Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Addresses Canon Law Society about Abuse Situation: For Whom Is Canon Law Designed?

Bishop Charles J. Scicluna

In my previous posting, I referred to a report Fr. Thomas Reese has published at National Catholic Reporter regarding Bishop Charles Scicluna's recent address to the Canon Law Society of America. Scicluna was previously the Promoter of Justice for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican. In that capacity, he was, as Reese notes, roughly the equivalent of the Vatican's "chief prosecutor" for cases of clerical abuse in the Catholic church. 

As I read what Scicluna has to say about how canon law addresses abuse cases, I'm struck by the following:

1. The emphasis of Scicluna's reading of canon law (and this reflects the emphasis of canon law itself) is far and away skewed in the direction of protecting the rights and serving the needs of clerics--while the rights and needs of lay Catholics, and notably of lay Catholics abused by clerics, are only distantly addressed by canon law.

2. Scicluna notes that canon law envisages three ends in any process considering the guilt of a cleric: these are "reparation of scandal, restitution of justice and the conversion of the accused." Only the second of these ends can in any way be said to address the needs of those abused by priests, and it does so only in a glancing way.

3. What's very clear in Scicluna's presentation is that canon law itself sees the primary problems in an abuse case as tamping down all reports that can lead to scandal and as "converting" the priest himself. Canon law has almost no room at all for considering the needs of lay Catholics who have been sexually abused by a priest, or for addressing the hurts and mending the injuries done to those who have been abused.

4. Scicluna makes three affirmations that, to my way of thinking, are mind-boggling, in that they cannot possibly hang together, and one cannot coherently affirm all three statements at the same time:

1. Pastoral leaders must find "the courage to tell victims to move on," to stop creating "a persona out of being victims." 
2. "A tragic consequence of abuse is the loss of faith -- a loss of faith in a God who is compassionate, merciful and loving. I have met victims who have renounced the faith as a consequence of what they suffered, and my attitude is silence and prayer." 
3. "The victims evangelize us."

As I say, these three affirmations cannot possibly hang together. How is it possible for victims to evangelize us, when we tell victims that they must move on? How can someone who is not there evangelize the rest of us?

How can someone we've told to consider herself or himself as less than the rest of us, as an unworthy part of the body of Christ--"Just move on"--possibly evangelize any of the rest of us in the body of Christ? When we make people invisible, how do they retain the ability to evangelize us, to remind us of good news?

And so in what way does it make any sense at all to speak of victims renouncing "the faith," when the faith itself clearly renounces them by informing them that they must move on, must stop being professional victims? There is, isn't there, something egregiously evil about blaming those who are victims for their loss of faith when we ourselves--"Just move on!"--have created the conditions for victims' loss of faith by treating victims of clerical sexual abuse as less than human?

What gives any human being the right to tell another human being suffering from childhood sexual abuse that it's time to "move on," to stop suffering, to shut up and get over it? Where does such astonishing hubris come from on the part of Catholic pastors and canonists, and how can Catholic pastors and canonists possibly imagine that they're behaving pastorally when they engage in such hubristic, insensitive, cruel behavior?

As long as we have bishops (with canonists who think as Rev. [Reginald] Whitt [of St. Paul-Minneapolis] does to advise them) who assume that their primary pastoral responsibility as bishops, bolstered by canon law itself, is to "save" pedophile priests while ignoring the needs of the people of God, we'll continue to have dangerous priests placed by bishops in positions in which they'll have access to minors. And we'll have cover-ups. 

The roots of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church begin with the very governing system of the church itself, and are inscribed in that governing system's code of canon law, which creates a two-tiered system that allocates power exclusively to the ordained, and excludes the non-ordained from all governing power and from fundamental rights within the church. Until that deeply unjust system of governance, which is itself a recipe for abuse, is rectified, the abuse will continue. And it will continue to be covered up.

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