Saturday, April 24, 2010

John Allen on Castrillon Hoyos's 2001 Letter to Bishop Pican: What Counts in Coverage of the Vatican?

I wonder if I'm the only person in the world troubled by the following statement in John Allen's recent NCR article about Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, to which I linked in a posting earlier today.  Allen writes:

Though the letter was actually published on the Internet in 2001, it languished in relative obscurity until a French Catholic publication brought it back to life a couple of weeks ago. Given the current media climate, it immediately became a cause célèbre. 

That statement troubles me at a number of levels.  First (or "first up," as Mr. Allen prefers to say), it bothers me because it's an implicit rebuke of the media in general, the media who don't have his inside track to the Vatican mind, and who therefore can't be trusted (so Allen seems frequently to suggest) to parse Vatican statements correctly or even justly, as Mr. Allen can as a Vatican insider.

The implication is that there's a significant statement from 2001 that Mr. Allen has known about for some time,which has important bearing on the abuse crisis, and he hasn't ever disclosed it in anything he's written--though he wants to take the media to task for not having done their homework now that the media has jumped on the 2001 statement in the "current media climate"!

And so the second point that disturbs me re: Mr. Allen's statement is the one I've just raised: if John Allen has long known about Castrillon Hoyos's letter,which he says was published on the internet in 2001, why has he never written about it before now?  Is the 2001 letter pertinent only because it has just now been discovered?  Would it simply be just another document about which we would shrug our shoulders in any other media climate?

Mr. Allen has, after all, written frequently about Castrillon Hoyos.  In the interregnum between John Paul II and Benedict, he wrote that Castrillon Hoyos was a papabile.  And in his 2004 book All the Pope's Men (NY: Doubleday, 2004) , which promises to tell the rest of us how the Vatican thinks and which has a whole chapter on the abuse crisis, Allen mentions Castrillon Hoyos a number of times--as well as Bishop Pican, the French bishop to whom Castrillon Hoyos's 2001 letter was directed.

But no mention of the 2001 letter.  None at all.  In a book that certainly appears to have done its homework, and claims (vis-a-vis the abuse crisis) to be "animated by the hope of putting English-speaking Catholicism and the Holy See in conversation with one another" (p. 224).

It seems somehow less than . . . gracious . . . to imply in 2010 that a letter which has been online since 2001 ought to have been at the fingertips of less experienced journalists when the person making this insinuation himself wrote a book on a topic that ought to have cited this significant letter in 2004.  And when that person has written repeatedly about the author of the 2001 letter.

I'd surely like to know why Mr. Allen has kept this letter to himself for so long.  If he really wanted to help us to understand the Vatican and to put us English speakers in conversation with the Holy See, it seems to me an important document to have apprised us of before now.

I wonder if anyone else might be asking similar questions after having read Mr. Allen's article about Castrillon Hoyos.

P.S. Is my memory deceiving me when I seem to recall that it was Castrillon Hoyos who announced the election of Ratzinger to the papacy?