On the front of the sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic church, there have been several important stories in recent days. I'd like to point readers today to commentary about these stories that I've found valuable:
1. First, as Josephine McKenna reports for Religion News Service, a little over a week ago, Cardinal George Pell gave testimony from the Vatican in an Australian government probe seeking to ascertain how the leaders of the Catholic church have (or have not) responded to the sexual abuse of children by priests in Australia. Pell managed to outrage abuse survivors and those who stand with survivors by saying the following (this is McKenna's summary):
Using a hypothetical example, Pell said the church was no more responsible for cases of child abuse carried out by church figures than a trucking company would be if it employed a driver who molested women.
To which the Brisbane Times responds with this editorial statement:
Leadership is about asking a simple, profound question - ''is this right?'' - and then acting appropriately in response. On this measure, Cardinal George Pell, who now resides in the Vatican after his stints as archbishop of Sydney and before that of Melbourne, has serially failed.
As does The Standard of Warrnambool, Australia, which writes,
For the families and survivors of Catholic clergy abuse, Cardinal Pell’s performance was an incredibly insensitive and hurtful affront to victims from a man who just doesn’t seem to get it.
Cardinal Pell has let nothing detract from his pathway to power in the Vatican where he is Prefect for The Secretariat for The Economy, meaning he looks after the money.
Speaking from this high office in Rome on Thursday the Cardinal not only insulted victims of abuse, he dishonoured every practising Catholic who still has faith in their church and the teachings of Christ. It won’t have crossed his mind of course, but he should hang his head in shame.
As The Standard editorial reminds us, Pell (who is on the team of close advisors Pope Francis put together to advise him about reforming the church when he first became pope) is now a top money man in Rome. Perhaps because the cardinal has always been patently more comfortable dealing with other top money men than with the little people who constitute the church he is called to lead as a shepherd, Pope Francis has made him the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. Where he can handle money and hobnob with other top money men . . . .
It would seem to be a canny decision to move a pastor so tone-deaf to his flock to a position in which the flock is now spared of listening to him bleat about trucking companies and drivers who molest women as he counts his coins. But as Todd Flowerday of Catholic Sensibility wonders as he muses about Pell's trucking-company slam at abuse survivors, perhaps Pell's latest colossal slip of the tongue suggests he's not fit for that position, either:
We can say Cardinal Pell’s judgment on sex abuse and cover-up is impaired. Might that mean his judgment with regard to finances and administration is damaged? Outside of the hierarchy, I’d say there are significant numbers of people who might say yes.
2. And then there's the ongoing saga of convicted felon Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City. Who has been on probation since he was sentenced in 2012 for putting children at risk by failing to report that he knew that Father Shawn Ratigan had taken pornographic photos of little girls and archived them on his computer . . . . And whose probation is now under review . . . .
Several months ago, an 18-page report by an arbitrator in this case was released. As the Kansas City Star's editorial response to the report notes, it's a damning report that, inter alia, orders the diocese to pay abuse survivors $1.1 million for Finn's failure to abide by court-ordered agreements he had prior to the Ratigan case, to monitor priests abusing minors. The diocese paid out $10 million in that previous settlement.
The editorial statement concludes,
Beyond that, the behavior of diocesan leaders has cost millions of dollars generously given by members of local Catholic churches — money that surely could have been more worthily spent providing ministry to people in need.
This whole affair has been baffling. Why didn’t the church and its leaders do the right thing in the first place? When convicted of wrong doing, why didn’t Finn take the honorable route and resign? Why does the diocese continue to spend money seeking to justify its bad behavior?
In the end, the true victims and potential victims — the children — get lost in the legal maneuvering.
One of the church’s most important jobs is to protect children in its care. As the latest ruling confirms, the diocese has failed that moral obligation.
As all this takes place, Father James Connell, a retired priest and canon lawyer in Milwaukee, has renewed his appeal to Pope Francis to take action in the case of Finn. As Brian Roewe reports for National Catholic Reporter, Connell sent a letter to Pope Francis in February asking for the pope to investigate Finn. He has now sent a second letter, in which he notes,
Hence, holding accountable those bishops who have contributed to the clergy sexual abuse scandal stands as the key to resolving this crisis and to rebuilding the trust among the people.
For not a few lay Catholics, the pope's failure to do anything at all about Finn up to now is perhaps the single most serious obstacle to hope regarding his professed determination to reform the central governing structures of the Catholic church. It will be interesting to see how — or if — he responds to Father Connell's repeated pleas that he address the scandalous situation in Kansas City, in which a convicted felon has been allowed to continue as bishop following his conviction for endangering children.
3. Finally, there's this mind-wrenching story — the story of (former) archbishop Józef Wesołowski of Poland, who was ordained by St. John Paul II and eventually sent by the Vatican to the Dominican Republic as the Vatican's nuncio to that nation. In 2013, as the Dominican Republic began to move against Wesołowski on charges of sexual abuse of minors, the Vatican whisked him out of Latin America and brought him to Rome, where he has been beyond the reach of the Dominican courts. When attempts were made to extradite Wesołowski to Poland to face charges in the child abuse cases, the Vatican again shielded him, though it did also defrock Wesołowski.
As Laurie Goodstein reported in a blockbuster report last Sunday in the New York Times, the Vatican has insisted that because Wesołowski was a Vatican official qua apostolic nuncio, it has the prerogative to hear any case about Wesołowski. The copious details recounted by Goodstein about how Wesołowski operated as he sought his prey in the Dominican Republic — about how he sought out young boys from the lowest echelons of society, as well as a teen with epilepsy to whom he gave medicine in exchange for sexual favors — are stomach-churning.
Goodstein's report ends with a summative statement by a Catholic pastor in the Dominican Republic, Father Rogelio Cruz, who tells her,
The people used to say, "I want my child to go to a Catholic church." Now they say, "No child of mine is ever going to a Catholic church."
As Mary Hunt points out at Religion Dispatches, after the New York Times published Goodstein's painfully detailed report about Wesołowski, the Vatican suddenly appeared to relent on its claim that Wesołowski must be tried in the Vatican, and issued a statement that he can potentially be extradited either to the Dominican Republic or to Poland — though Hunt doubts seriously (and I think she's absolutely correct about this) that his Vatican cronies will, indeed, cut him loose for prosecution in those countries.
As Hunt concludes,
The Vatican could have waived immunity and let Dominican (and presumably Polish) law take its course. It did not have to secret this man away before the news of his crimes hit. But it could, so it would, and it did. This latest twist about lifting immunity is meant to convince that they were really doing the right thing all along. It rings suspiciously hollow.
A certain slime factor hovers over this case—evil so deep and enduring that few people want to talk about it. The sheer number of victims and their willingness to come forward despite whatever stigma they might endure give this case special status. The colonialism alone is repulsive; the legal ramifications boggle the mind; and the religious implications for a very Catholic country are staggering. If this is how the new guidelines work with regard to sexual abuse victims, I say back to the drawing boards because no one wins and the children always lose.
She's right. And this case, too, is another one that lay Catholics who have watched Francis's papacy unfold with a dwindling sense of hope that he really portends reform for our church are watching closely. With sinking hearts . . . .
The graphic: "Christ aux liens" is a 16th-century limestone sculture from Vesoul, France, now at the Musée George-Garret in Vesoul. The photo is by Remi Mathis and is available for sharing at Wikimedia Commons.