Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reviews of CNN Special, "What the Pope Knew"

Some good reviews today of the CNN special "What the Pope Knew" that will air tonight, about which I blogged yesterday.

At Beliefnet, John W. Kennedy praises the documentary's "rock solid" journalism and concludes,

Unfortunately, the facts do convincingly show that Pope Benedict XVI (when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the papal reign of John Paul II) did not do all he should have done when cases of alleged child sexual abuse by priests were brought to his attention. The strong suggestion being that then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was much more sensitive to the cause of protecting that Church's reputation than to the pain of the victims of child molestation. 

At the same time, Kennedy is willing to grant that Benedict's stance on the crisis appears more proactive than that of his predecessor, and he holds out hope that the Catholic church will move towards healing as it copes with the crisis.

At South Coast Today (New Bedford, MA), Kevin McDonough finds the documentary "scrupulously evenhanded," and concludes that the program offers a "mixed verdict" about the extent to which Benedict's "institutional instinct" has caused him to protect priests and ignore their victims.  Several Catholics commentators of the right are, of course, also weighing in on the CNN documentary before it airs, with considerably less generous judgments about its journalism and intent.  I'll leave it to readers to find those links, if you're interested in reading such commentary.

Meanwhile, there's also an outstanding review today in the Irish Independent of Geoffrey Robertson's new booklet The Case of the Pope.  For an excellent summary of that book, see Betty Clermont's latest posting at Open Tabernacle.

Robertson calls for international scrutiny, and if necessary, international prosecution of Benedict for complicity in sexual abuse of children by covering up such abuse committed by priests.  The Irish Independent review notes that Robertson is one of the most eminent human rights lawyers in Britain.

It also notes that Ratzinger's use of the rubric of "pontifical secrecy" makes the pope a candidate for investigation by an international court, particularly because of the "widespread and systematic nature" of child abuse within the Catholic church.

The review notes that Robertson's argument turns on showing that "[t]he Pope had a legal duty to ensure that perpetrators were punished and that duty was breached by imposing Canon Law secrecy and moving priests around."  Robertson also demonstrates that the level of abuse has been much higher than church figures have maintained, and since 1981, up to 100,000 children have been probably been molested by priests.

The conclusion of the review: 

He [i.e., Robertson] demolishes the legal basis for the Vatican's claim to a form of statehood which puts its clergy above the civil law and he is scathing about the UN's apparent acquiescence in this. He is also highly critical of the Pope's response to abuse in Ireland and in particular the recent attempts by the Pope to address the situation.

My observation: it's interesting that, as Robertson's book and its arguments are being discussed, the Vatican bank scandal has come along to demonstrate to us the fatuity of claims that, because the Vatican does good and provides moral leadership as a sovereign state, it ought to be above the laws that govern other nations or the international sphere.  It seems to me that apologists for the Vatican who imagine that something in one's Catholic commitment requires one to defend the Vatican (I'm definitely not in this camp as a Catholic) can't have it both ways: they can't argue on the one hand that the Vatican needs to function independently as a sovereign state akin to secular states in order to protect its moral voice, but on the other hand, that the Vatican ought to be above the laws that scrutinize and restrain the behavior of any sovereign state and its institutions, when Vatican decisions or institutions contravene legal norms.

If the Vatican is going to function parallel to and in the same mode as a secular state, it's going to have to be subject to the same scrutiny applied to other secular states.

On the graphic for this posting, see Andrew Sullivan's assessment of what Benedict knew about, and how he handled, the case of Rev. Stephen Kiesle, in April at Sullivan's Daily Dish site.

No comments: