Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Crisis in the Catholic Church: A Selection of Recent Commentary

Once again, a collection of statements whose common thread is that all are recent reflections on the deep institutional crisis in which which the Catholic church now finds itself worldwide, due to the longstanding and ongoing cover-up of cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors from the top of the institution.

The following article is from Pope Benedict’s homeland, where his papacy was initially greeted with warm enthusiasm by both Protestant and Catholic Germans: Spiegel Staff, “Helpless in the Vatican: The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI” :

Five years later, the situation in the Church has caught up with Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. The filth in the Church has seeped out of the secret dossiers and hidden corners of vestries, seminaries and schools and has been brought to light. As the head of the Church, the captain of this battered ship, Ratzinger now finds himself at the center of the filth.

The pope is now confronted with accusations from all over the world, accompanied by increasingly urgent appeals to finally render his ship seaworthy again. The sex abuse cases which were initially a problem only for national bishops' conferences, particularly in the United States, Ireland and Germany, have merged into a crisis for the entire Catholic Church, a crisis that is now descending upon the Vatican with a vengeance and hitting its spiritual leader hard. Meanwhile that leader seems oblivious to what has happened so suddenly.

As Jürgen Bätz reports, in its first three days of operation, some 2,700 people called a sexual abuse hotline set up by the German Catholic church on 30 March: Jürgen Bätz, “German Church Abuse Hotline Gets Nearly 2,700 Callers in 3 Days”:

The hot line – which began operating March 30 – received around 13,300 calls total in its first three days. Kronenburg said this worked out to about 2,670 people, as many called several times.

In addition, around 100 people used an online form to contact the service.

Most of the callers are people who say they were victims of sexual abuse or their relatives, with some callers also reporting cases of physical abuse, he said.

As my report yesterday on the situation in the Crookston, Minnesota, diocese indicated, the deep institutional roots of this problem – of cover-up and buck-passing – run right to the center of the church.  To Rome.  To the Vatican.

To the office formerly headed by the current pope, Benedict, who in 2001, centralized reporting about abuse cases in his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the ostensible goal of assuring quick, proactive responses to those cases.

Yet the Crookston story, which took place in the years 2004 to the present, suggests that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a large part of the cover-up and buck-passing problem, and not a solution to it.  The CDF is now headed by Cardinal Levada.  The following is Jason Berry’s reflection on Levada and his performance in the abuse crisis: Jason Berry, “The Vatican’s Point Man on Abuse Was Successfully Sued by Whistleblowing Priest”:

Making Levada the point man in responding to media criticism of the pope was a dicey move. Pope Benedict chose Levada in 2005 to succeed him as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office that historically ruled on disputes of theology. In 2001, Pope John Paul II gave Ratzinger control over abuse cases and whether to defrock clerics. To his credit, Ratzinger took on an issue that until then was scattered among other departments.

But choosing Levada to bring justice to the Vatican was always problematic, given his record as archbishop of San Francisco and before that, Portland, Ore. Levada used the same tactics of other bishops in sheltering perpetrators, which spurred civil lawsuits and bad headlines. Moreover, Levada stands alone among American bishops in having been sued, successfully, by a whistle-blowing priest, Jon Conley, who reported another priest to the police for making sexual advances on a teenage boy. Father Conley received a six-figure settlement from the archdiocese. Conley's struggle offers a cameo of what's wrong in the Vatican today.  . . .

Levada refused my interview requests in 2005. Soon thereafter, Benedict sent a rope ladder that took him out of the muck of depositions and lawsuits in San Francisco, up and away to the Eternal City, where he presumes to speak with credibility on these matters today.

Rick Ayers thinks that the Vatican’s immediate strategy of circling the wagons and blaming the media (and other targeted groups), and of changing the subject, is working: Rick Ayers, “Pope Benedict’s Gang—Too Big to Fail?: 

The efforts of the church to limit the damage from the newest revelations of massive child abuse have been surprisingly effective so far. The task of Pope Benedict's team has not been to deny that these crimes took place. Rather, they have sought to reframe the debate, to deflect the discussion from the deeper implications that cry out for examination.  . . .

Even if the church is forced to take responsibility for individual cases of sexual abuse, they have succeeded if they have limited the damage to a discussion of how to deal with errors, aberrations. The important thing now is to see beyond the smoke screen they have erected and question a deeply authoritarian institution - one that degrades women and their personhood as a matter of doctrine, one that polices and represses sexuality, one that presumes to control children's bodies. Abuse, violence, and rape are all common policies of institutions bent on terrorizing and controlling populations. That's where this discussion should lead us.

Finally, writer Mary Gordon explains why she stays, though she’s a progressive Catholic woman who laments what the men at the center have done to her church:  Mary C. Gordon, “Why I Stay: A Parable from a Progressive Catholic Woman”:

It is an error of vocabulary to assume that "the Church" is a direct synonym for "the hierarchy," "the bishops," "the Vatican." Those of us of a certain age remember traveling abroad during the Vietnam years when we would be asked, "How can you still call yourself an American?" Our answer was: we are not the White House. We are not the Pentagon. We are the people protesting; America is larger than your words suggest. Why must I believe that the church is Pope Benedict and not the courageous nuns who took real risks to defy the American bishops on health care in the name of the poor whom they serve? Some say we owe the passage of health care to these brave women; their position would not have been so effective if they had been speaking not as nuns, whose lives had been dedicated to the Church, but, say, as a group of nurses or social workers. The Church has a very long history; this history includes a fair share of scoundrels; it also includes those whose heroism was achieved despite the opposition of the official Church: Joan of Arc and Oscar Romero, to name only two.